Once upon a time, a farmer is driving along the road with a load of fertilizer. A little boy, playing in front of his house, sees him and calls out, “What’ve you got in your truck?” “Fertilizer,” the farmer replies. “What are you going to do with it?” asks the little boy. “Put it on strawberries,” answers the farmer. “You ought to live here,” the little boy advises him. “We put sugar and cream on ours.”
Sugar and cream are good. But we Christians need fertilizer in Lent.
Jesus tells a fascinating parable about the lack of good fruit on a fig tree. And when the owner meets with the gardener and finds no fruit on the fig tree, he asks, “Why should it exhaust the soil?” We could ask ourselves, “Why should I exhaust the soil?” In the words of Sister Verna, O.S.B., it is a case of all “take” and “no give.” Does this stands as a symbol of our spiritual lives. We take and take and take but how much do we give?
So, we need Lent. It is a time to rediscover our “muchness.” In Alice in Wonderland, all the characters of the fable remember Alice as a strong determined person. When she revisits Wonderland the Mad Hatter says to her, “Oh Alice, you’ve lost your ‘muchness,’ there is something missing inside you.” I wonder if the loss of our “muchness” is our lack of vision.
When we walk out of the church on Sundays and remain our simple sarcastic grumbling selves, we lose our “muchness.” When we continue to blame God for evil like the people in the Gospel we lose our “muchness.” When we fail to be curious about the spiritual life, when we turn our backs on people in need, we lose our “muchness.” Sometimes I think that this is the question God will ask us when we die and face judgment, “Why did you exhaust the soil…and not grow…and not bloom…and not bear good fruit?
We can regain our muchness with curiosity. Now, I understand that it killed the cat, but spiritually speaking if Moses was not curious about the burning bush, he would not have had a vision of God. “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,” he said, “and see why the bush is not burned.” Curiosity is a strong desire to learn something or to experience something. Curiosity is good in many ways…and it can even freshen the soil of our spiritual orchards. “Muchness” begins with curiosity. And when we investigate the spiritual life great things happen when God mixes with us. Sandals come off. Sacred Voices speak. Divine Revelations appear. And even fig trees begin to bloom and bear fruit.
Learn a lesson from the fig tree. It possesses great significance for us. The fig is the first fruit mentioned after the fall of Adam and Eve. They flee Eden, and God makes clothes for them from the fig tree. When in human history all is right with God and humans, all of us will sit under our fig trees and enjoy the first fruits of our vineyards. And when the Messiah arrives in our midst, we will recognize him as we sit under our fig trees. The significance here must not be lost. God is the owner; we are the orchards; Jesus is the gardener; the fig tree is our Christian life.
We not need sugar and cream in our spiritual lives. We need fertilizer. In the words of the psalmist: The Lord is kind and merciful. Every day is another chance to turn around and be curious about “muchness.” We have “muchness” in the Eucharist that strengthens us with the body and blood of Christ. He is our kind gardener who desires to cultivate our fig tree.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The 3rd Sunday of Lent