Strange Fruit: Two RC Women Priest Homilies for the 3rd Week in Lent
If you have ever heard the great Blues singer Billie Holiday, Lady Day, sing “Strange Fruit” the melody and the words will haunt you. It is one of the earliest songs of the horrors of injustice and racism. It is about the lynching of blacks in this country. The body of a black man is the “strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree”, the fruit of a “strange and bitter crop”. The racism (and other horrific isms) of our 21st century is still the strange fruit of those who claim to love God and those who claim to follow Christ. It is the bad fruit growing on the sick vine. When Pope Francis recently said that those who build walls instead of bridges cannot be Christian he was reacting as Jesus did in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 13: 1-9) where Jesus is reacting with a call to repentance to the horrible injustice of the death of Galileans at the hands of Pilate and the Roman occupiers who “mixed their blood with their sacrifices”. The Galilean Jews were killed as they followed the Law and then their bodies and souls were desecrated as their blood was mixed with the blood of animals. Jesus clarifies that it was not their sin that “earned them” this fate, nor were those who had a tower fall on them more sinful than all the rest. In a time of untimely tornadoes and tsunamis and earthquakes and viral plagues, mass murders and terrorism, it is important to know that God is there with us not causing our horrific troubles. In a different slant than is sometimes taken on this Gospel, I think Jesus was reacting to the blatant evil and injustice of murderous oppression and to the capriciousness of those who blame people for the horrors that befall them-and he was strongly saying “turn it around!”. (Jesus also clarified in another place(John 9:3) that, contrary to popular belief,(and indeed contrary to some of the words of Paul to the Corinthians in I Cor 10: 1-6) a blind man was not blind because of his sins,(and God does not bring evil upon people who grumble and turn from God). But Jesus also said that “no good tree can bear bad fruit” a tree is recognized by its fruit (Luke 6:43;Matt 7: 15-20). Jesus calls strongly for repentance, he cannot tolerate such injustice and hatred. But he also wants to help us learn how to truly love our neighbors before we cut ourselves off from God.
As in the Hebrew Scriptures’ reading for Sunday, (Exodus 3:1-8,13-15) our compassionate God hears “the cry of those oppressed, the complaint against their slave drivers”, and God knows well the suffering of God’s people. God has come to rescue the people and lead them to a “land of milk and honey”. Moses is struck with the literally awesome holiness of God, and God clarifies that God’s love and compassion is part of this holiness,and he calls Moses to deliver his people. We see here that the God of Moses, the Great I AM, and Jesus, the Christ of God, can not tolerate the downright evil and injustice of oppression. Jesus, goes on to say that repentance is called for in the face of evil and injustice. That is, we are called to turn ourselves around when we perpetuate or tolerate the hatred, murder,indifference and injustice of our times. To God the lives of the oppressed,all those who suffer while others prosper, matter so much that God calls for repentance as well as deliverance. To “enter the kingdom of God, we must do the will of God”-we must put the words of God, and the words of God’s Chosen One, into practice or the world falls down around us and we are “away” from God (Matthew 7: 21-28).
In the parable of the fig tree in our Gospel today we see the frustration of an owner of a vineyard that has a tree that bears no fruit- he is ready to cut it down after three years of waiting for the fruit. But the gardener who tends the trees, pleas, as it were, for the life of the tree. “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down”(Luke 13:8-9). In this parable Jesus is not the owner of the vineyard but the gardener who will give the sorry tree another chance. He will cultivate and fertilize it, he will take care of it and give it every chance to bear fruit. Jesus recognizes that we are not always fruitful, and although he calls strongly for repentance, for turning it around and practicing the laws of love and compassion and justice toward our neighbors, all of them, he is also willing to tend our growth so that we can indeed bear this fruit. What a relief that is for those who have trouble with the laws of compassion, what a relief that is for us.
The Responsorial Psalm (103) for this Sunday says it so well: Our God “pardons all your inequities, heals all your ills, redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion” Our God “secures justice and the rights of all oppressed…Merciful and gracious is our God, slow to anger and abounding in kindness…” AMEN!
Let us then examine our lives and turn away from injustice and hatred in every form, and enact mercy and kindness like our God.Let us, in the Spirit of Christ, tend to the sorry trees and help them to grow good fruit. Let us turn it all around in ourselves, and in our world.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers
And From Rev. Dr. Beverly Bingle of Toledo, Ohio:
In today‘s reading from the book of Exodus,
Moses spots a flame in a bush,
and when he checks it out,
he finds that it’s a messenger from God.
And then, when he gets nearer, he hears God’s name—
I AM WHO AM.
Moses learns the nature of God, and of all that is:
the ground he stands on is holy;
the people of God are holy;
all creation is on fire with God’s love.
The bush is burning.
From the stardust of creation
to this very day,
every bush is burning.
God’s name is written in all that is,
and it is to be remembered forever.
Nearly 1500 years later, Jesus looks around
and sees that people are not remembering the name of God.
They are not remembering that the ground is holy.
They do not see that all creation is on fire with the love of God.
So he tells people about it.
In the passage just before today‘s Gospel,
he tells the crowds that they know
how to interpret signs of the earth and the sky
but not the signs of the time.
He asks them why they don’t judge for themselves what is right.
Then he tells them that, if they don’t change their ways,
they will all perish,
and he follows that
with the parable of the fig that isn’t bearing fruit.
The owner wants to cut it down,
but the gardener pleads for time
to try some routine horticultural practices
for just one more year to bring it into fruit.
Now, it takes three to five years for a fig tree to fruit,
and the planter of the tree expects fruit in the fourth year.
The gardener knows that it should mature and bear fruit
by the next year, its fifth year.
If there’s no change, it will be destroyed.
The crowd recognizes the fig tree
as a typical metaphor for the Israelite people.
They understand that Jesus is saying
that the center of their culture—
the Temple in Jerusalem and its cult of Roman collaborators—
And the crowd clearly understands his message:
unless they change, unless the Temple changes,
all will perish.
Now, 2000 years after Jesus, and 3500 years after Moses,
we hear the same message,
this time aimed at us.
In Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudatio Si’
we hear that the center of our culture is unproductive;
unless we change, we will perish.
We hear Francis calling us to heed the signs of our times.
There’s lead in Flint’s water, microcystin in ours.
Record heat and record cold.
Record earthquakes and cyclones and tornadoes.
Violence in Kalamazoo and on our streets in Toledo
and around the world.
Air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, extinction of species.
They’re all around us, the signs of our times,
calling us to change our ways,
or we will perish.
It’s inspiring to see so many Toledoans,
especially our Holy Spirit Community,
changing their personal lifestyle habits
to become more and more responsive
to Francis’ call to care for creation.
Some folks carpool, or bike to work, even in winter.
Some turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater.
More are buying local food at local businesses.
Some are researching candidates’ environmental positions
so they can vote their consciences in the March 15 primary.
And all of us are trying to get a few trees planted.
Big things and little things,
each of them part of the effort to take better care of our planet.
Inspiring as all these good works are,
we know we have to do more.
God’s name is written in all that is,
and human selfishness and greed are destroying it.
That’s why we’re spending time this Lent fine-tuning our lives,
eager to follow ever more closely the lesson Jesus teaches.
We must read the signs of the times.
We must judge what is right and act on it.
We must care for creation
as an act of love for God and neighbor
and a work of justice for all.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
Holy Thursday, March 24, 5:30 p.m.
Holy Saturday, March 26, 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-