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Second Sunday in Lent

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Ararat / Willaura
21 February 2016
Texts: Gen 15:1-12, 17-18
Phil 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:1-9
Looking at the world around us, it is pretty easy to see that good things happen and bad things happen. And
looking at the world around us, it is also pretty easy to see that there are good people and bad people. We
know about both these things from the news media and from our own lives. The big question which people
in Jesus day thought about a lot, and which we still think about today, is whether there is any connection
between these two observations. Does God make good things happen to good people and allow bad things
to happen to bad people?
It seems like a neat and sensible assumption, this assumption that we live in a universe of rewards and
punishments. You do good things, good things will happen to you. You do bad things, bad thing will
happen to you. Some religions teach this as a core belief it is, of course, the concept of karma, central to
Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and some other smaller Asian religions: Good intent and good deed
contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and
future suffering. This idea is also found in the Bible, quite often. Remember Job?

He suffered severe

losses (family, property, and health), and he carried on a long verbal interchange with three friends, who for
chapter after chapter of the Boko of Job try to convince Job that he must have done something wrong to
deserve his suffering. All this despite the fact that Job protests his innocence and the text itself tells us that
Job had committed no sin. The Psalms are full of passages that urge us not to get upset when the wicked
flourish; they will get their just desserts.
Or again, you will remember the story from the Gospel of John in which the disciples of Jesus ask him,
when they encountered a blind man, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?
(John 9:2). The disciples simply assume that there is a link between sin and misfortune.
Jesus, however, is not a Buddhist. Or a Hindu. He does not believe in karma. He takes care repeatedly to
break this conventional understanding of a link between sin and misfortune. In the case of the man born
blind from John, Jesus replied that neither the man nor his parents had sinned so as to cause the blindness.
And that even trying to make the link is a distraction from the real thing going here a chance to
demonstrate the glory and grace of God. And in the cases before us in todays Gospel, his answer is the
same. The Galileans who were killed (perhaps by Roman soldiers while the Galileans were offering their
sacrifices in the Temple) and those crushed by the falling tower were not more sinful than everyone else.
There is no link between sinfulness and misfortunate, Jesus warns. And again the attempt to make the link is

a distraction, a distraction from the much more fundamental truth that all of us are sinners. As Paul puts it,
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). All have sinned.
This doesnt sound hopeful or too much like Good News, but in fact it is. Because all have fallen short, all
are in need of Gods forgiveness and grace, and Gods forgiveness and grace extend to all without exception
and cannot be earned by good behaviour or moral uprightness. (That is almost the very definition of the
Good News!)
And as if to underline the stress on Gods grace and mercy, Jesus gives us further teaching about the mercy
and patience of God in the face of human failing in the parable of the fig tree. St Augustine (AD 354-430),
one of the great fathers of the Church linked this story with the whole of salvation history:
This tree is the human race. The Lord visited this tree in the time of the patriarchs, as if for the first
year. He visited it in the time of the law and the prophets, as if for the second year. Here we are now;
with the gospel the third year has dawned. Now it is as though it should have been cut down, but the
merciful one intercedes with the merciful one. He wanted to show how merciful he was, and so he
stood up to himself with a plea for mercy. Let us leave it, he says, this year too. Let us dig a ditch
around it. Manure is a sign of humility. Let us apply a load of manure; perhaps it may bear fruit.
(Sermon 254.3)
Because sermons are soon forgotten, even sermons by St Augustine, we have a reminder of this every week
in the Eucharist. One of the invitations to the Confession runs, God is steadfast in love and infinite in
mercy, welcoming sinners and inviting them to the Lords table. God is always patiently waiting for us to
bear good fruit, and treating us like plants, pruning, watering and fertilising us.
Lent is a time, among other things, for self-reflection. You are the fig tree. Spend some time this week
thinking over your walk with God. Can you think of times when God was covering you with manure -- an
unpleasant experience for sure! only for you to bear fruit later? I can.
Jesus wants us to break with lazy thinking about links between sin and misfortunate, karma, first by
remembering that all are sinners and all alike dependent on Gods mercy, and secondly by understanding
that even when bad things that happen to us (getting covered in manure), by Gods grace they result in good
-The Revd Canon Dr Timothy Gaden
Parish of Ararat
Canon Theologian, Anglican Diocese of Ballarat
tim@ballaratanglican.org.au | Mob 0488 110 415