If you were to do a google search on “ridiculous warning labels”, you’d find some pretty interesting ones. For example – and these are all real:
On the inside of a washing machine: “Do not put any person in this washer.”
On a Razor scooter: “This product moves when used.”
On a chainsaw: “Do not use the wrong end of chainsaw.”
On a Rowenta iron: “Never iron clothes on the body.”
Those are ridiculous.
But there are a lot of warnings we encounter that are not so ridiculous. For example:
“Hot surface, do not touch.”
“Slippery when wet.”
“Electrical shock hazard.”
“If you do not repent, you will all perish.”
Those are not ridiculous.
You may recognize the last one as coming from today’s Gospel from Luke. Jesus is saying that the Galileans who suffered at the hands of Pilate and those in Siloam who died when a tower fell upon them were not necessarily guilty of sin. That their misfortune – for some due to the cruelty of their ruler and for others through accident – did not indicate that they were being punished by God for what they had done. On the other hand, Jesus notes that for anyone who is a sinner, then their fate will be even worse than theirs… if they do not repent.
Tragedy does not mean sin. But sin is always a tragedy.
Lest they fear, however, Jesus goes on to tell them the parable of the fig tree that did not produce fruit and its patient gardener who said that he would work the soil and fertilize it to give the tree another chance to produce. God is the gentle and patient gardener who gives us all second chances. But it is not a wide open invitation. In the parable, the gardener said to give it one more year. It was a time limited offer. For us, our time here in life is when we can repent. We best do so before our time is up. And that is a warning worth heeding.
We’re moving our way through the desert; it’s the third Sunday of Lent. What is your Lent like so far? What accompanies you? What fears? What conclusions? What prayers? What intentions? What questions? What are you giving up? What are you actively doing? What are your sins?
I sometimes like to reflect upon the fact that deserts can be spectacularly beautiful. The sunrise coming up over the dunes in the desert, casting shadows, can be quite stunning. But you can lose your way easily in the desert, become dehydrated, suffer from the heat.
Or… you can travel through the desert with indifference, without noticing the beauty, without fearing the dangers. You can just muddle your way through in a numb-like fashion.
What is your Lent like so far? Is your walk through Lent this year characterized by… this… by nothing?
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, we are taken through a journey to hell, purgatory and heaven. In the lowest depths of hell, we do not find fire and scorching heat there but rather it is an icy blue, frozen place. And those who are sentenced there are condemned to be frozen in place. Stuck. Planted permanently in their resentments, their judgments, their bitterness, their insults, their excuses, their neglect.
And yes, their indifference. Their numbness.
Fr. Jim Keenan says that “mercy is entering into the chaos of another”. To willingly and knowingly step into the complexity, the pain, the suffering and the chaos of another person. This is compassion. This is mercy.
Do you willingly enter into the chaos of another? I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find that have my hands full just dealing with all the chaos that’s in my own life.
This Lent, let us get unstuck from our indifference, unfrozen from our apathy.
Mercy, true mercy and compassion for others… and a willingness to take on their pain, their struggle, their chaos… is how we can do so. Jesus instructs all those who would listen.
And that is a warning worth heeding.