God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive, not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.
Fulton Sheen Rejoice (1984) 9
There exists a great spiritual thirst both outside the church in the world around us and in the church itself. We are like people in the desert, not just in this period of 40 days but throughout our lives. The modern world is deeply consumerist: shopping centres replace cathedrals and yet we are still thirsty, thirsty for the living water, thirsty that our needs may be satisfied. We all of us realise, deep down, that commercialism cannot save us: that what we buy doesn’t really nourish or satisfy us. There can be no commercial exchange with God; we simply have to receive his gifts. We are not worthy of them are, that’s the point: God satisfies our deepest needs and desires out of love for us, wretched miserable sinners that we are, so that enfolded in his love we might become more lovely. Only if we are watered by God can we truly bear fruit, only if we are born again by water and the spirit in baptism can we have any hope. This is what the season of Lent is for: it is a time to prepare for baptism – to share in our Lord’s death and his new life. We do this as individuals and indeed as an institution, so that the church may be born again, renewed with living water, so that it may be poured out over all the world to satisfy the thirst which commercialism cannot.
In our second reading St Paul writes the church in Corinth to warn them to keep vigilant: the church can never be complacent. For us Lent is to be a time when we learn not to desire evil: we have to turn away from sexual immorality and idolatry. In the last couple of generations the laissez-faire attitude in the world around us has not empowered people, it is not made them happier, it has just given us a world of fornication and adultery, where people worship false gods: Reason, Consumerism, Fulfilment, Money and Power. The ways of the world will always leave humanity empty. It’s why the Gospels show Jesus living a radically different life, a life in all its fullness, which he offers to people: to turn their lives around, losing their lives to find true life in him. He suffers and dies for love of us, to heal us, and restore us, so that we may share in his life of love, nourished by his body and blood, strengthened by his word and sacraments, and to share this free gift of the world around us.
This morning’s gospel acts as a warning to us: that we are in danger if we continue to sin. We are, however, not simply condemned but offered another chance. The gardener gives a fig tree another chance. This is grace: the free gift of God, not something which we have earned, and only through God’s grace can we hope to bear fruit. The gardener, who created man in Paradise, who will offer himself as both priest and victim upon the tree of life, to bleed and die for love of us, this gardener will meet Mary Magdalene by the empty tomb on Easter day, so that we all humanity may share his risen life.
So let us turn away from the ways of the world, its emptiness, its false promises, its sexuality immorality, the ways of emptiness and death, to be nourished by the living water, which satisfies our deepest thirst, which makes us turn our lives around, so that we may live in him, who loves us, who heals us and who restores us. The world may not understand this, it may be scandalised by it, it will laugh at us and mock us, in the same way that it mocked our Lord on the way to Calvary and upon the cross. Let us share in his sufferings, knowing that we are loved by him who died for love of us. Let us live as a witness, to share in his work of drawing all humanity to him: so that all people may come to the living water and finds new life in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory do-minion and power, now and forever