“Dear friends in Jesus, in the year 1269, Kublai Khan, King of China, sent a message to Rome. The message that addressed to Pope Gregory X and it read, ‘Send us a hundred wise men of the Christian religion. Let them teach us Christianity. Then I shall be baptized. If I am baptized, all my barons and novels will be baptized and then all my subjects. In the end, there will be more Christians in China than in Rome.’ This was actually a great opportunity. The Church had the evangelization, but what happened? Pope Gregory responded by sending only two Dominican friars, and even those two did not make it to China. They went as far as Armenia and came back unable to withstand the difficulties that journey entailed. Had the Pope responded more positively by sending 100 Christians, as requested the whole of Asia would probably have been Christian by now. But the church could not make use of the God given opportunity to christianize Asia. Dear friends in Jesus, this can happen to us in our personal lives as well. In the journey of life we stumbled upon many opportunities great and small. All of us, for sure remember the times we have failed to make use of these opportunities. This is true in our faith life as well. God gives us many opportunities to be good and to do good, but more often than not we miss them and even misuse them. Think, for example, of these holy season of Lent. This is a God given opportunity for us to cleanse ourselves of our sin, to clothe ourselves with the Holy Spirit and to come closer to God as his sons and daughters, but have many of us make use of this opportunity? Have many of us considered this holy season of Lent, as different from any other seasons? Only a few.
In the New Testament, we find an unfortunate man by name Nicodemus, who missed a golden opportunity to come closer to and encounter God. He was a renowned Pharisee. He was really learned and a leading member of the Sanhedrin. He was held in high esteem by his fellow Jews both for his wisdom and goodness. He had the fortune of meeting Jesus and listening to him in person. He had the benefit of witnessing the preaching and the miracles of Jesus. He admired Jesus so much that he defended Jesus when his fellow Jews wanted to arrest him. He helped to have Jesus properly buried. But for all this, we don’t find any trace of him in the early church. There is not even a mention of him in the history of the church. Do you know the reason why? Because he did not believe in Jesus as his savior. He did not accept him as his lord and master. His association with Jesus did not make him his disciple. Nicodemus did not place his faith in Jesus, even after Jesus told him that he had been sent by God. The fact that Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark of night gives us a clue as to what his nature was. He came to Jesus in the dark because he did not want other people to see him with Jesus. By being spotted with Jesus, he did not want to lose the respect he commanded in society. He did not want others to think of him as a disciple of Jesus. In a way he was ashamed of publicly associating with Jesus. He traded and risked his eternal life for the mundane and temporal respect he had in the society around. He was more concerned with what others would think of him than what he thought of Jesus. He considered his association with Jesus a private affair. He did not want his association with Jesus a priority in his life. And so for fear of losing his respect in the society around, he lost his soul.
Dear friends in Jesus, we may consider Nicodemus as an unfortunate guy who could not make use of is God given opportunity to save himself by placing his faith in Jesus, but how different are we today? From him, when it comes to placing our lives on the table for Jesus, we may be baptized, we may call ourselves Christians, but are we ready to risk ourselves, our reputation, our respect, our position and everything we have for Christ and his kingdom? Is Jesus our priority today? If not, is our salvation guaranteed? Soren Kierkegaard was right when he said, ‘It is easy to make one Christian when he’s not, then to make one when he thinks he is one.’ We think we are Christians, but so long as we are Christians by convenience, we are in no way better than Nicodemus and our salvation is not guaranteed.
Dear friends, in Jesus, let us make good use of the season of Lent. It is another opportunity God has given us to mold ourselves into his images and likenesses. This is another opportunity he is giving us to save ourselves. If we really want to benefit from the season of Lent. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that we got to repent. What exactly is repentance? The parable of the fig tree, though short, is really a profound Christian document on repentance. It teaches us what repentance really is. Repentance literally means change. It means becoming something new.
Most of us think repentance is all about feeling sorry for our sins and confessing them to God with an intention to forsake them in future. It is not the best understanding of repentance because it is very sin centered, but getting rid of sin is only a part of true repentance. According to Jesus, in today’s gospel, true repentance is not just feeling sorry for the wrongs we have done, but resolving to do good and rejoicing in the good we are going to do. This is the kind of repentance where you see Zacchaeus in the Gospels. He not only confesses his wrongdoings, but also resolves to replace them with the good ones, and Jesus tells us very plainly that we cannot be saved unless we repent the way he wants us to. The sin of the fig tree is that it produces no good and he hasn’t done anything particularly wrong. It hasn’t hurt anybody, but it has not done anybody any good either. The three has drawn nourishment and sustenance from its surroundings, but it has given nothing in return. Dear friends in Jesus during Lent, we usually examine ourselves, recognize our sinfulness, confess our sins and do penance for them. But if our repentance stops there, we accomplish very little. Sin must be replaced with a virtue, evil with grace. We must produce. We must bear fruit if our repentance is to be more than an empty ritual. An examination of conscience must not only be a list of the wrongs we have done, it must also be a design of the good we will do in future. Yes, dear friends, true repentance means to become fruitful trees in God’s garden, and this season of Lent is an ideal time to dig around, and manure the tree of our life so that it becomes fruitful. And our prayer today is Lord Jesus, let us know that true repentance is not only confessing the bad, but also resolving to be good and to do good. Amen.”