An under-reported fact, in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 – before the reactions, political analysis and military retaliation – something happened that was … remarkable.
People called home.
It was an automatic human response, erupting almost everywhere regardless of politics or religion.
People acted in a similar and instinctive way.
They called home.
On their phones, people called their loved ones to ask how they were doing, and what they thought of what happened.
They texted and emailed, reconnecting with old friends living on the other side of the country.
Over the next couple of days, they tried to reconcile with estranged family members.
They said “thank you”.
They slowed down.
They went to church: Worship attendance in many churches across North American in the Sundays following 9/11 was dramatically higher.
And they hugged. They hugged their children, their spouse, friends, even strangers.
An under-reported fact: this kind of instinctive outburst, an immediate outpouring of some deep inner love, in the aftermath of tragedy.
What might this suggest about deeper truths and realities that undergird our universe?
Those in a palliative situation, in their final hours of life, who were reflecting back on their lives, have been known to say: that in terms of regrets they may’ve had … that they never wished they had worked harder and longer hours at their place of work; they just wish they’d spent more time with their family and loved ones.
Celebrated 20th century scientist Albert Einstein – credited with being the first to unravel the mysteries of the subatomic level of our universe, of gravity, relativity, matter and time – he who immersed himself in the rational and scientific questions of: “How does this work?” “Why does this work?” “What happens when this happens?” –
… He eventually came to the conclusion that the most important question anyone can ask about the universe is: “Is the universe a friendly place?”
Something greater, beyond the visible, material world that speaks of a deeper truth, a more important, fundamental reality, than any other.
One of friendship and love.
One that deserves more of our attention, more of our valuing and appreciation.
Tragedy strikes in Jesus’ day.
The Gospel text tells of an unspeakable act of brutality at the hands of Pilate – a powerful man in Jerusalem who had no hesitation, or ethical scruples in `taking out’ his political foes.
Pilate has just massacred in cold blood a crowd of Jews worshipping in their own temple.
And you can tell that the people around Jesus talking about this senseless act of genocide are not only aghast at this, but also focussed on the question of why? Why these particular Galileans?
They get preoccupied with trying to make sense of something senseless, of trying to come up with some logical explanation for a brutal tragedy.
Same with the tragedy of the18 people getting killed when the tower of Siloam falls on them. Why? Why these 18? Were they especially sinful or bad, deserving of punishment?
They were wrapped up in that micro-thinking, that exercise in rationalizing.
Jesus rejects their logical musings and analysis of these events, their rational presumptions about why these particular people died in these violent tragedies…
Jesus rejects all of that, and dramatically re-directs their preoccupations elsewhere.
He uses the image of a fig tree, to point out the fact that the primary purpose of a fig tree is to blossom, to bear fruit, to yield figs to sustain human life.
Not only does it look beautiful and bring joy and wonder to the eye of the beholder, but it also provides necessary food for life to be possible.
A fig tree, as with other fruit trees, is fundamentally life-giving, life-enhancing.
We too, are to be about “bearing fruit” – giving life to others. Agents of life, hope, new beginnings.
In dramatic fashion, Jesus re-directs people’s thinking away from obsessive attachment to seeking rational answers to admittedly unanswerable questions, …
… and toward paying more attention to the more important matters of the heart, of love, of relationship, life-giving attitudes and behaviours that are not only beautiful, but eternal, lasting forever.
We’re now in the season of Lent. How many of us look forward to Lent as much as we do Christmas? Not many, eh?
What might be first images that come to mind at the mere mention of the word “Lent”?
Austere rules and restrictions? Bleak, sad moods? Am I right?
There’s a kind of constricting, dark and dour feeling that comes to the fore.
We think Lent is all about giving up the good things of life, the happy and fun foods, like chocolate…
We tend almost completely to focus on our wrong-doing, everything that goes wrong in our lives and world.
We dream up images of a severe, punishing God eager to inflict pain and suffering on us.
These are the negative images of “Lent” that come to mind. Am I right?
Interesting how these popular notions of Lent have drifted so far away from the original intentions for the season of Lent, as it came into being in the first couple of centuries of our common era.
First of all, the word “Lent” actually comes from an old English word meaning “Springtime”, and can be related phonetically to the word “lengthen”, referring to the lengthening of daylight hours that we experience, even now in late winter, but certainly in the Springtime.
So even the word itself carries with it images of new life, new hope, new beginnings.
It contains important clues as to the original purpose of Lent, which was a six-week period of time between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, of focussed study in the Christian faith in preparation for baptism at Easter.
It was a time of retreat from the rigours of ordinary life, and immersion in the life and ministry of Jesus, and the character of God.
A time of intentional spiritual practice of prayer, fasting, generosity toward others, meant to begin a transformation, a change of heart and mind to be more in line with that of the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus.
Lent was a participation in the renewing and transforming love of God, who’s Spirit of joy and goodness already undergirds and fills all of creation.
Jesus is saying: Why spend any more time and energy trying anxiously to find rational, logical answers to unanswerable questions?
Time is better spent “bearing fruit”, as in the fig tree: being life-giving and loving in our words and actions.
Time better spent nurturing a more expansive, wide-horizon imagination, that sees the whole world, the whole universe, shot through with Divine Love and Life … and we ourselves, as part of it.