3rd Sunday of Lent
February 28, 2016 – Year C
Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 / Psalm 103 / 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 / Lk 13:1-9
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
On this third Sunday of Lent, I have a confession to make. I really, really like the PBS series “Downton Abbey.” So now, guys, before you start cutting up my man card, hear me out. It’s British, which just automatically raises its cool factor. Think “The Beatles.” But as a preacher, I also like the way the series handles moral dilemmas. They don’t present them in a shallow, superficial way. They dig deep into them and explore all sides of various issues, and they do this masterfully.
But I think the thing that draws me to this series the most is the characters. They are very well developed. There are no two-dimensional characters in this series. I was initially hooked on the series by the Dowager Countess, who is played by Maggie Smith (AKA “Professor McGonagall.”) I encourage you to go on Google and look up “Dowager Countess quotes.” They’re priceless.
However, I think the character I am most fascinated with in this series is Thomas Barrow, the evil butler. He is a nasty and spiteful piece of work. He tries to undercut his fellow employees at every turn to try to make himself look better. But he’s not quite that simple. As the series progresses, we learn that he has led a very complicated life, and he has some very deep-seated issues. I think if we are honest with ourselves, there is probably a little bit of evil butler in all of us.
Like the fig tree in today’s Gospel, we oftentimes fail to bear the fruit that God created us to bear. We fall short of our potential. And we do this in spite of knowing what we are supposed to do. Sometimes we just do the wrong things. Lent is a time when Mother Church calls us to reflect on this, to reflect on our lives, to look for the evil butler that dwells in all of us, and to bring it to the Lord in the Sacraments.
As I said last time I preached, I have been reading a book by a Jesuit. One technique that St. Ignatius likes to use was he liked to place himself in the Gospel. He liked to imagine that he was in the Gospel stories. So today I want you to try that. I want you to imagine yourself in the Gospel story today. But I don’t want you to imagine yourself as the fig tree. Instead I want you to imagine yourself as the gardener.
Because, see, I think the gardener is the real hero of this story,and I think the gardener contains some very important messages for us. The gardener sees the potential in the tree even when the owner fails to do so. The gardener is willing to get his hands dirty to try to help the tree. The gardener could have been like some of us can be at times. We could have said, “OK, boss” and grabbed the axe and started chopping, because after all, this tree has had three years, and it really doesn’t deserve to be there anymore. But instead he takes it upon himself to try to help, even though there is no guarantee that his effort will pay off.
I think the message here for us is that people tend to change when others take an interest in them. We see this, time and time again. We see it in fiction and we also see it in real life. Don’t worry if you haven’t finished watching the whole series; I won’t spoil it for you, but Thomas Barrow, the evil butler, begins to change a little bit when one of the other characters takes an interest in him and tries to help him.
We see it in other fiction; we see it in one of my favorite movies. Darth Vader turns away from the Dark Side, through the efforts of his son Luke. You see it in the classic tale at Christmas, A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge changes his life, partially because of his nephew who, year after year, wishes him Merry Christmas. And we see it in real life. The young man who murdered Maria Goretti had a change of heart through the kindness and forgiveness of Maria and her mother. He was able to change; he was able to turn over a new leaf. He was able to become the child that God had created him to be.
So this Lent, as you’re working to improve the evil butler inside of you, and as I am doing the same thing, I encourage us all to be gardeners also. I encourage everyone to reach out with compassion to those around them who are struggling to bear the fruit that they were meant to bear. And if we do that, I guarantee that each of us will find that the evil butler inside of all of us will change too.