daily biblical sermons

If we do not repent of our sins, put our faith in Christ, and resolve to change our ways, we will perish – and the time is running out
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, March 20, 2022
Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15, Psalm 102 (103), 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12, Luke 13:1-9

Scripture quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’ And he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, “Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?” And he answered him, “Let alone, sir, this year also, until I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”’” (Luke 13:1-9).



People told Jesus that Pilate had mingled the blood of certain Galileans with their sacrifices. Surely they thought that these Galileans were terrible sinners, far worse than themselves, and therefore they deserved to suffer this tragedy. But Jesus uses this information to turn it back on the crowd, saying that those people were not any worse sinners than anyone here present, “but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).



Often we see tragic things happen to people, and we disassociate ourselves from them by saying that they must have deserved what happened because they were far more sinful than we are. So we excuse ourselves for our sins and proceed to forget all about these tragic events and go about our business without making any changes in our way of life. But Jesus tells us that those who suffered such tragedies are just like all of us here today.



They suffered what they deserved in punishment for their sins, because they did not repent in time. The point is that we need to recognize ourselves as sinners and genuinely repent. To repent means to recognize our sins and stop sinning. This requires a radical change of our life and behavior in concrete terms.



Then Jesus brings up another event. “Those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4).



We are now in Lent, a time when we emphasize repentance and amendment of life, when we recognize our sinful behavior and resolve to stop sinning and amend our ways. If we have been committing sins or have been living in a sinful way, now is the time to recognize this and stop sinning by expressing our sorrow to God and our desire to amend our life.



Genuine repentance also requires that we put our faith in Christ and in his atoning death on the cross for our sins, for he is the one who makes reparation for them by suffering our just death sentence for them for us on the cross so that God can in all justice forgive us without violating his perfect justice.



God supplies us with a substitute or proxy to suffer our just punishment for our sins for us if we put our faith in him and depend on his suffering and death on the cross for the sins of the world. God then counts his suffering and death on the cross as though it were our own suffering and death in just punishment for our sins and so justly declares us ungodly sinners righteous, because our sins have been fully paid for, their death sentence has been fully and justly served for us by the proxy and Savior that God sent to us to do this for us, namely Jesus Christ.



This is how we repent and win forgiveness for our sins from an all-just God who is also all merciful but never violates his perfect justice, because all our sins are duly and justly are punished in Christ’s flesh on the cross when we put our faith in him (Romans 8:3-4). They are not punished in our flesh, but rather in the flesh of Jesus Christ our Savior and our proxy, the substitute that God has sent us to suffer and die in punishment for our sins for us.



Furthermore, God expects fruit from us as he expected fruit from Israel, for Israel was blessed more than all the other nations in antiquity, more than Greece and Rome and their great civilizations, and therefore God expected more of Israel than of all the other nations that did not receive his special revelation and his law.



But Israel fell short of what God expected of her. She did not produce the fruit of the holiness of life that God expected to find in her. Israel, Jesus tells us today, was like a fig tree that a man planted in his vineyard and every year went out looking for figs, but never found any. So he told the gardener to cut it down, because it was uselessly taking up space and producing no fruit.



Do we take up space in the Lord’s vineyard, in his Church, without producing any real fruit, after having received so much revelation from God? This parable is true of the Church as well as of ancient Israel. We have the full revelation of God – both the Old and the New Testament. We have heard of Jesus Christ. What fruit do we bear in our life for the Lord who is looking for figs on this fig tree? God gives it one extra year to repent and to produce good fruit and tells the gardener to cut it down altogether if after this final year it produces no fruit.



What fruit do we produce for God? Do we preach the gospel to others? Do we share our faith with others? Or are we only passive Christians who sit at Mass or at a gospel service every Sunday and yet live exactly as our neighbors who are not Christians? If so, Christ is warning us that we will be cut down and lost forever if we do not produce the fruit that God expects of us.



What are our Churches like today? “There is a plain warning here to all professing churches of Christ. If their ministers do not teach sound doctrine, and their members do not live holy lives – then they are in imminent peril of destruction. God is every year observing them, and taking account of all their ways” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900, emphasis in the text).



This teaching on repentance and bearing good fruit for the Lord is not only a key theme during Lent, but it is something that is of vital importance in the Church today, for there is a new false teaching ravaging the Church in our own day, falsely telling us that repentance is of rather minimal importance, because God is merciful.



This false teaching teaches that if we are in a difficult life situation, God in his mercy doesn’t expect us to obey his biblically revealed moral law, because that would be too difficult for us. Rather he invites us to be accompanied to discern a new moral law custom-made just for us weak sinners in difficult life situations, whereby we can continue in our favorite sins and still be in God’s good graces and be good Christians and good Catholics in good standing and receive the Eucharist as often as we please, because God reveals to us in our conscience, through a process of accompaniment and discernment, a custom-made easier and lower moral law designed just for us, which we discover in our conscience through discernment.



In this way, according to this new false teaching, our sins become acts of virtue, because we discover that God’s will for us is to live a mortally sinful life, because God does not in his mercy expect us to follow his biblically revealed moral law, because of its difficulty in our particularly difficult life situation.



Therefore when we commit mortal sins, according to this new false theory, we are doing what God wants us to do – we are doing his will – which we have discerned by being accompanied, and so God does not count these sins as mortal sins in our case, but rather as virtues, which he will reward. Our mortal sins thus become virtues, according to this new false teaching, because God’s will for us is that we commit them.



Of course, this is all complete nonsense and a total abandonment of all moral revelation in the Scriptures. It is simply a human theory based on evil desires to live a sinful life, because of the pleasure of it, and yet be able to excuse ourselves and falsely claim that we are living a virtuous life.



This deadly false teaching is raging in the Church today, wreaking havoc with believers who are deceived by it. So we must emphasize the simple and basic biblical teaching of the importance of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ who pays for us our debt of suffering and death in punishment for our sins, when we put our faith in him and genuinely repent and intend to amend our life.


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