Here is the thing that stands out to me in this week’s readings: We are gonna have to put up with a lot of crap. In the gospel lesson, Jesus shares that weird little parable about the fig tree. The owner is fed up with it and wants it gone, but the gardener says, “Let’s try one more year. Let’s surround it with as much crap as we can and see if it will grow under those circumstances. If it doesn’t, then we will cut it down.”
Mom, if you are reading this, I am sorry for using the word crap so much. It seems better than the obvious alternative!
The question in my mind becomes about where the crap comes from. It is this question that keeps me from using the word fertilizer. To fertilize something sounds so lovely. It sounds so incredibly helpful and I do understand that when the NRSV uses the phrase “until I dig around it and put manure on it” that the manure is the fertilizer, but someone in a prayer group this morning mentioned “all the crap we must go through in order to grow” and it just sticks with me like a fly on, well, you know. The outcome may be growth. It may even mean extended life on this earth, but being dug around and piled under manure doesn’t sound like a walk in the park to me.
So, is it a test? The writer of 1 Corinthians seems to think so. This is that passage often repeated to people when they are in the most dire of situations – “God will not test you beyond your strength.” I generally can’t stand it when folks say that to me. How is it helpful to think about a terrible situation in my life being orchestrated by God to show me how strong I am? I’m more likely to believe that bumper sticker phrase that I can’t write here because then I’ll really be in trouble with my mother! You know the one I mean. A word that means the same as crap or manure followed by the word “happens.”
But that leads my mind down another rabbit hole – why does “it” happen? And, then I’m led back to the gospel where Jesus tells the people around him that they must repent or they will perish. I can’t help but wonder from what this particular group of folks needed to repent. If we look at the context of the words, they seem to have been trying to play the blame game. “Well, those people were clearly the worst because that tower fell on them. They must have been really horrible!” Or maybe it wasn’t the blame game at all. Maybe they were just trying to make some sense out of things they witnessed that didn’t seem to make any sense at all. Like a fig tree that produces nothing or a prophet that tells us “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
This post is wandering around like I’m lost in the wilderness! Seems appropriate on this third Sunday of Lent to do so. Crap happens. Sometimes it happens to us. Sometimes it happens around us. Sometimes it happens in spite of us. Bottom line is that turning toward the Christ is the only way to survive the crap being piled on year after year after year. And, as we wander through these 40 days of Lent, we are called to repent, to grow, and to believe that we can do things that don’t seem to make much sense at all in the eyes of the world. Thanks be to God for that!