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Do you take responsibility?

Bernard L. Brown tells the story of an incident in a hospital where he worked. A patient knocked over a cup of water, spilling it on the floor. Fearing that he might get out of bed and slip, he asked a nurse’s aide to mop it up. (The patient didn’t know it, but hospital policy dictated that small spills were the responsibility of nurses’ aides and large spills were the responsibility of the housekeeping department.) The nurse’s aide said the spill was a large one and called housekeeping. Someone from housekeeping arrived and said that the spill was too small and was the responsibility of the nurse’s aide. An argument ensued about who was responsible. Finally the exasperated patient took a whole pitcher of water from the night stand, threw it on the floor, and said, “Is that a big enough puddle for you two to decide?” It was, and the water was removed.

As Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel passage, God expects us to take responsibility for our own moral lives, but He does not take responsibility for every misfortune that comes our way. He gives an example of 18 people who were killed when a tower in the town of Siloam fell upon them. Some people said this happened as God’s as punishment for their sins. But Jesus said, “Do you think that they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did.”

Jesus’ point is very clear: we are to take responsibility for that which we can control, especially our spiritual and moral lives. At the same time, He corrects the notion that a natural or accidental tragedy that befalls us is always an “act of God”. God does not send hurricanes to punish people for some personal moral failure. In fact, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters are simply part of the natural order of things.

What God wants is that we not perish but survive and come to eternal life. For this, we are to imitate Him as His image and likeness. In the 1st Reading, God tells Moses His name. For the Hebrews, your name tells others who you are and what you are meant to do in life. Thus, Jesus means “God saves.” Moses learns that God’s name is “I Am”. This means more than just “God is”. It signifies the way He always relates to others. It is similar to the name Emmanuel which means “God is with us.” He then tells Moses that He watches over, cares for, and acts on behalf of His people. He chooses Moses to be the instrument by which He will save them from their suffering and slavery.

In the Gospel parable, Jesus tells us that God expects us to be like Himself by having a fruitful life. The fig tree is a symbol of the Israelite nation. This tree is supposed to bear fruit but does not. So the owner wants it cut down, but the gardener persuades him to let him cultivate and fertilize it to see if it will produce some fruit.

Similarly this season of Lent is a God-given time to cultivate our spiritual lives through prayer, fasting, and charity so that we may become more fruitful through repentance. Hopefully the end of Lent will find us more ready to be more responsible followers of Christ and to produce more fruits for the Lord and His Church. If we do so, we will find the Lord filling us with tremendous joy at Easter as we share inf Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

Father Kirlin