O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness,
who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
This is the Collect (“opening prayer”) for today’s Mass, the 3rd Sunday of Lent. What is “this confession of our lowliness”? Well, lowliness means being unimportant and inferior, in some way. So the confession of our lowliness means we recognize our inferiority, limitations, and weaknesses, and we acknowledge our need for help. We are unable to help ourselves, and so we plead to God for assistance and mercy. That is humility and lowliness, recognizing our own need.
We express our lowliness during the season of Lent and during the Mass. During Lent, our fasting, prayer and almsgiving are meant to improve ourselves, that we may learn to love. During Mass, we come to the Lord pleading for help and for the strength of his grace.
During Mass and Lent, we recognize how much we need the Lord, acknowledging our own weaknesses, faults, and our failure to love. In coming to the Lord in prayer and fasting, we confess that we are in need of his help and that we cannot heal ourselves.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of a fig tree that bears no fruit and should be cut down. We are that fig tree, controlled by selfish desires, by unwillingness to love, and by a fear that prevents us from acknowledging our weaknesses and limitations. We bear no fruit; why not cut us down?
But wait! The gardener says he’ll care for the tree. Give the fig tree one last chance; with the gardener’s help, it will return to health.
Like that fig tree, we cannot heal ourselves. We are sick with anger, fear, and hatred, and we cannot cleanse ourselves from those illnesses. But that’s exactly why Jesus Christ became man and dwelt among us, that he may teach us love. The tools he gave us appear in the Collect: fasting, which means self-denial and detachment from worldly goods; almsgiving, which means reaching out with love to our fellow man in need; and prayer, which means realizing we need God’s help and committing ourselves to his service and into his care.
A vital lesson to learn from Lent and Mass is that we are not capable of saving ourselves. We are sick fig trees that need a gardener to tend and heal us. God offers us everything we need, all the Miracle-Gro we could ever use. Are we willing to accept his help, to accept his love, and to change our lives and our very self? Only through acknowledging our weaknesses and asking for and accepting the Lord’s help can we triumph in the Resurrection at Easter.