“The Lord invites us to use our gifts and talents worthily and He will sustain our efforts by His grace and mercy.”
Napoleon Bonaparte is often portrayed as a violent man, a dictator alongside the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. But those who knew him, knew him to be a man of great compassion.
A certain General Lajolais of Napoleon's army, was found guilty of conspiring against the state and sentenced to death. The General's daughter managed to be in such a place, at such a time, that allowed her to throw herself at the feet of the Emperor and beg for mercy.
Annoyed at this lapse in security, Napoleon attempted to walk around her but she held on to his knees refusing to let go. “Mercy! Sire! Mercy for my father!”
Finally, the Emperor asked her, “What is the name of your father?”
“Lajolais,” she answered.
“Yes, I know him, but Mademoiselle this is the second time your father has been found guilty of an attack upon the state. I cannot give him anything, he must face justice.”
“I know Sire,” the young lady answered. “But the first time he was innocent and today, it is not justice I ask for, but mercy.”
“Why?” asked Napoleon, “what has he done to deserve mercy?”
“If he deserved it,” the daughter replied, “it would not be mercy.”
The Emperor, visibly touched, took the young girl's hands in his own and in a broken voice said, “Yes, my child, I will grant mercy because of you.”
Grace is a merciful gift from heaven, we cannot earn it or deserve it, and it is through Christ that God offers it to us.
The Fig Tree
The Gospel according to Luke tells of a fig tree that bore no fruit. After three years the owner of the orchard ordered the tree cut down. But the gardener interceded on behalf of the tree, showing it mercy. He offered to cultivate it and fertilize the ground around the tree in hopes that the tree would bear fruit in the future.
Like the fig tree in the parable, we are not cursed but we are running out of time to show that we are worth saving. It is not that God’s patience with us is limited, but it is we who are limited to our own lives. We have but a short span of time to bear fruit and avoid the gardener's axe. We cannot hope to be paid wages if we are unproductive servants.
The gardener who intercedes on our behalf is Jesus, nourishing and working the soil of our hearts, encouraging us to grow and bear good fruit. This is the grace and mercy that He offers to us.
Leaf by Niggle
(Spoiler Alert – if you have not read this story, first published in published 1945, I encourage you to do so. It is Tolkien's musings on artists and creativity.)
In J.R.R. Tolkien's purgatorial short story “Leaf by Niggle,” Niggle is an artist working on a painting of a great tree that had started with a single wind-blown leaf. But he is constantly interrupted in his work by his neighbor, Parish, who needs help with one chore after another. In the end Niggle gives up his last chance to finish his painting for the sake of Parish.
Niggle is then called to embark on a long journey for which he is unprepared (his journey in the afterlife.) Because of his state he is sent to a workhouse (purgatory) where he is tasked with manual labor until he is completely exhausted. As he lay in bed, recovering, he hears voices talking about his “case.”
The first voice, described as “severe” is in favor of keeping Niggle at the workhouse for some time yet. But a second voice “gentle, though it was not soft - it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful” argued in favor of Niggle being released to the next stage.
"I think you put it too strongly," said the First Voice. "But you have the last word. It is your task, of course, to put the best interpretation on the facts. Sometimes they will bear it. What do you propose?"
"I think it is a case for a little gentle treatment now," said the Second Voice.
Niggle felt the phrase “Gentle Treatment” sounded “like a load of rich gifts, and the summons to a King's feast.”
It is through Christ that God extends to us His mercy, to give us the opportunity to avoid condemnation. The Lord invites us to use our gifts and talents worthily and He will sustain our efforts by His grace and mercy.
In the eyes of Jesus we are all equally at risk if we persist in sin. At any given time the tower could fall upon us or we could lose our lives to circumstances beyond our control. The danger is not from physical death, which is temporary; it is from spiritual death, which is eternal. To spare ourselves that fate we must respond to the offer of grace and work with Our Lord to bear fruitful lives. Then, like Niggle we may one day see the masterpiece of our lives completed and in full bloom.
“All the leaves he had ever labored at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time.” Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien
3rdSunday in Lent
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com