Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 28 February 2016 – Don’t Cut That Tree Down Just Yet


Third Sunday of Lent C – 022816 – Don’t Cut Down That Tree Just Yet!

Click here for today’s scriptures

The two tragedies mentioned at the beginning of today’s gospel are sobering reminders of the recent shootings in, Michigan, Kansas and Washington and the killings occurring around the world. Pilate was known for his brutal reprisals against religious practices. The tower that collapsed was part of the wall built to protect the City of David. Both events are historically uncontested.

Why is this passage important during Lent? Some commentators say that the author Luke was afraid of God and wanted to make sure his non-Jewish Greek audiences would behave in ways similar to those who trusted that God would not abandon them.

Do you ever think that when something bad happens to you you are being penalized by God? Scripture scholar Brendan Byrne says that the victims in this gospel story were not being punished. The meaning of the passage and its reference to the barren fig tree is to remind us that we cannot take anything for granted in life. There are always new possibilities and alternatives for living and dealing with challenges that come our way.

The constant reminder of repentance during the season of Lent requires a closer examination. The word “repent” could mean having feelings of sorrow or regret. It could also mean re-thinking or changing our minds about something or someone including ourselves.

Perhaps like you I have been reading reviews about the films being nominated for an Oscar tonight. They helped me think about today’s biblical texts. Like all art forms movies can manipulate us and they can also reveal hidden truths. They can affect, subliminally or directly, the way we think about our own lives in terms of romance, evil, history or fantasy. 

Two films up for awards tonight, like the gospel, deal with brutal stories. Spliced together Revenant and Room create a visual narrative about survival, revenge, captivity and the repercussions caused by violence and indifference toward others. What is the connection with our scriptures?The Exodus reading suggests God was aware of the brutalities the Israelites suffered while they were held captive.

There is no way to know if this story is factual but a meaning behind it reminds us that a kind and merciful God promises to protect us. The covenant, however, is reciprocal. We have to do our part or experience the consequences of our apathy. But, know that God will not carry out the punishment. Rather, our bad decisions will lead to actions that penalize and victimize others as well as ourselves. Therein lies the punishment and the reason for repenting.

One woman in a scripture course I took recently said deliverance from evil comes in stages. It does not happen all at once. The Exodus story did not rid the world of diabolical deeds. So, how does God go about protecting us today? Is there anything we can do to help God?

This past month, dedicated to African American History, is but a short reminder of the gifts that black people give us. Yet, tonight no black actors or film makers will be honored at the Academy Awards. Some say this an oversight that can be corrected. Others say it is symptomatic of a deep seeded racism that continues to plague our nation? Are you racist? Am I?

Capuchin theologian Bede Abrams believes that the cultural gifts of African Americans, their sense of creativity, identity and worth has been “stolen” repeatedly by the dominant culture in power in the United States. Could this also be true about our church, which in this country is predominantly white and still mostly based on European aesthetics and cultures? If so, you and I must act to erase this prejudice. Black lives matter.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his award winning book Between the World and Me writes to his son about American exceptionalism and the struggles of African Americans. “It is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and ignore the evil.” Coates calls for holding our country to “an exceptional moral standard” when it comes to racial equality.

We’ve have a lot of work to do to advance the realm of God in everyday life. The gospel suggests we should not be quick to give up on advocating for justice or improving our own lives just because we do not see instant results. That is why Lent is forty days long. That is why we keep Lent every year — to remind us to turn barren trees into fruitful ones.

Parishioner Rebecca Maxwell wrote to me about how she and her son saw a tree that had fallen by the roadside and looked quite dead. Yet, she said, during last spring, leaves began to reappear. Good thing that that tree was not destroyed before it had a chance to come back to life.

That is what rethinking our lives during Lent is all about — giving one another the chance to blossom and grow before we cut each other down.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

6 thoughts on “Homily – 28 February 2016 – Don’t Cut That Tree Down Just Yet

  1. Wow! I had already read this gospel and didn’t get nearly the inspiration out of it than you did. What a helpful homily!




  3. Hope you realize how your insights help many give others a chance to blossom. Great homily.


  4. Feeling particularly overwhelmed with the power of structural sin lately, and my sins of commission and omission in that structure, I welcome your homily today. May the withered tree of my weary heart bloom, speaking and acting in concert with the gospel, and taking action where in the many places where I blindly missed the chance to do something. It is never too late, but we must rise up.


  5. I love the last sentence. It reminds me of something my wonderful family doctor said to me when I was a teenager. He was the kind of doctor who would sit and talk with each patient in his office before he did an exam, and he asked me how everything was going. I was very upset with my dad’s behavior at the time and I told him I felt like giving up on him. My doctor said to me, very seriously, “Never give up on people.” So I think this is what Jesus is saying, too.


  6. I’m having a problem with my eyes and can’t see on the homily page where to post a comment, so I’ll do it here. You did a great job with last weekend’s homily. I would have been baffled at trying to find a common thread among all the current events, longstanding social sin, and the message of the scriptures. I’ve never liked the gospel, probably because I’ve never spent enough time pondering it. Barbara



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