The gospel of the 3rd week in Lent is an invitation for us to reflect about “image of God.” After the Transfiguration, Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem. On the way, he teaches a number of things—sometimes addressing the crowds, other times the disciples, and still other times the Pharisees. Reflecting on our image of God is important because it shapes the way we live our faith and the way we treat others.
God is not about punishment. The first story is about some individuals sacrificed by Pilate to which Jesus adds the victims of a tower’s fall. Jesus strongly refutes the idea, very prevalent in his society and often present in ours, that the misfortune of others was a direct curse from God. The opposite also was true: a person of wealth was considered to be blessed by God. This is not the God that Jesus taught and he sternly taught that the idea had to be changed. The consequence of this judgmental image of God is really that we have no responsibility in the misfortunes of others, when we certainly do. I believe many still operate under the image of a God of punishment, like a cosmic moral enforcer, who is there to police our adherence to rules.
God of Mercy. The second teaching is the beautiful parable of the barren fig tree. It is a story that shows a God of Mercy. If I believe that God is a God of second chances (or third, or fourth…) then I have to be a person of second chances, as well. But the parable somewhat corrects the interpretation that God’s mercy is like a blank check, because…
God is merciful but also demanding. God expects things from us, what today’s gospel calls “to give fruit.” The analogy is simple: parents love their children, they love unconditionally regardless of what the children do; but parents also expect the best from their children. God the Father is the same for us: God expects us to give fruit—to love, serve, do justice, build the Kingdom here on earth. God knows how much we can give, and grow, as He created us. God demands that we strive to become the person He created us to be.
In our reflection on Metanoia!, this gospel becomes an invitation to check, and perhaps change, our image of God—the way we think about who God is and the consequences of that image.