O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God, our light and our salvation:
illuminate our lives,
that we may see your goodness
in the land of the living,
and looking on your beauty
may be changed into the likeness
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it,
the compass of the world and all who dwell therein.
For he has founded it upon the seas
and set it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
‘Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord,
or who can rise up in his holy place?’
‘Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,
who have not lifted up their soul to an idol,
nor sworn an oath to a lie;
‘They shall receive a blessing from the Lord,
a just reward from the God of their salvation.’
Such is the company of those who seek him,
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
There were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’
So often we find ourselves rushing to judge others. We hear rumours, or rumours of rumours, and we rush into drawing our own conclusions. Such conclusions are not based on fact, just hearsay. Sometimes those conclusions demand ‘justice’, as we would define it in this world, and sometimes clemency. Sometimes our conclusions create divisions that may never be healed, and sometimes they will lead us into making misguided alliances. All of this uncertainty is caused by our willingness to listen to rumours and gossip, ill-informed speculation and malicious supposition. Of course, this is not the path we should be following as Christians. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to love, to forgive … to give that second chance.
Sometimes terrible things happen. Those terrible things are never the result of a malicious and vengeance-seeking God sitting on his exalted throne and playing with the lives of human beings. Those terrible things are always rooted in humanity itself: our weakness, our fallibility and our fragility. God is a loving and nurturing God, he does not plan the terrible things that are so often ascribed to Him.
In today’s reading Jesus is reminding us that there are consequences to our evil actions. We are offered forgiveness by God, but that forgiveness comes after we have demonstrated our willingness to repent, that is to ‘turn around’ and follow a different path. Those who live their lives in a spirit of selfish ruthlessness towards all those amongst whom they live cannot expect to be anywhere other than at the back of the queue when it comes to the time when our earthly lives end and we seek a place in God’s nearer presence. But, even those people do not live without hope.
The parable of the barren fig tree demonstrates this perfectly. Why should a tree that has produced no fruit be allowed to take up valuable space in the vineyard? According to our human logic it should be uprooted and thrown on the fire, allowing some other tree to have its chance. But, Jesus says, ‘No! Let us be patient. Let us wait a little longer and give it another chance.’ This is how God deals with us. Our human weakness and misjudgements lead us further and further away from God, but God does not despair of us. Instead, God is patient and continually gives us just ‘one more chance’, the ‘one more chance’ we so often beg of our human parents when we are young.
Let us pray that we might be aware of our rash judgements and evil actions, and let us pray that we might turn to God in search of the forgiveness that comes from him alone. Let us pray that we might have the courage to set aside our ‘human wisdom’ and accept that God’s wisdom is so much more just and understanding. Let us pray for the strength to turn around and accept the ‘last chances’ we are constantly being offered.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray for the good fruits of God’s love.
Save the Church from becoming slothful and complacent. Keep us mindful of your judgement while we rejoice in mercy. Free your people from the sins that would separate them from you.
Bless the nations with thirst for the healing waters of your love. Teach us to guard against waste of the riches you have given to the earth, and strengthen our resolve to bring relief where there is human need.
Give grace to us, our families and friends to resist temptation and stand firm in the power of faith. Bless us in our work, so that we may seek goals that will bring benefit to others.
Have mercy on the victims of disasters across the world. Visit and relieve those who suffer from human cruelty, and make merciful the hearts of oppressors.
Receive the souls of the departed, granting them pardon for their sins. May they rest in peace and be blessed with eternal life.
We pray that in Christ we may have time for repentance and newness of life.
Prayer for the week
Most merciful God, we pray
for those who doubt your love;
for those who find it difficult to believe or to pray;
for those who have lost a faith they once possessed.
May the Holy Spirit enlighten their minds
and lead them into all truth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.