There is a subtle new emphasis being introduced into our Lenten observance. We begin to see here a picture of Christ, an element of his mission that is a bit unsettling, one on which we do not like to concentrate too strongly.
It is a picture of Christ as not only the saviour, but as the judge – as one who forgives his people their failings, certainly, but as one who also insists that forgiveness without repentance is just so many empty words.
Christ speaks very plainly. The only alternative to true repentance and conversion is domination. Those who have grown fond of their faults, those who are so quick to excuse and explain away their own weaknesses, those who are comfortable in sin, like the fig tree in the Gospel, these will be uprooted and cast aside.
The parable of the Fig Tree, short as it is, is really a very profound Christian document. It teaches something of what the word ‘repentance’ means. The word which is Gospel uses, which we translate as ‘repentance’, is ‘metanoia’. It means a change of heart. It means to become something new, when we think about repentance, we too often think about concentrating on our sins, about feeling sorry for them, struggling to avoid them in the future. Our understanding of penance us all to often too sin-centred.
But when Christ calls us to repentance, to metanoia, he does so by insisting that we put together a whole new way of life, one that is not sun centred. He demands that we go far beyond feeling sorry for the wrong we have done and begin to rejoice in the good we must do. And he tells us quite plainly that if we do not at least try, and do so persistently, for this complete penance, this metanoia, then we cannot be saved.
The sin of the fig tree was that it produced nothing. It hadn’t done anything particularly wrong. It hadn’t hurt anybody. But it hadn’t done anybody any good either. The tree had drawn nourishment and substance from it’s surroundings and it had given nothing back in return.
Certainly during this Lenten season we examine ourselves, we recognise our sinfulness, we confess those sins, and we do penance for them. But, if we stop at that we have accomplished really very little. Sin must be replaced with virtue. Evil with Grace. We must produce, we must bear fruit, if our repentance is to be more that empty ritual.
An examination of conscience must not be merely a list of what I have done in the past, it must be a design of what I will do in the future. Fr Andrew