You may not have heard about it, but Satan recently convoked a devils' convention in hell. It seems that fewer damned souls were arriving so Satan was looking for ways to remedy this. At the convention, he asked fellow devils for their ideas. One young devil suggested, "Tell the people there's no heaven; that way they'll lose hope and give in to our temptations." But Satan replied, "That wont work because life on earth is very difficult; they know there has to be a better life elsewhere." After a pause, a second devil suggested: "Tell them there's no hell; that way they'll think they can do anything and get away with it." Again Satan replied, "That wont work either because people have enough sense to know that although their life isn't always fair, sooner or later they'll be punished for doing wrong." Finally, a wizened old devil in the back row of the hall spoke up, "If we want more damned souls here, tell people there is a heaven and there is a hell, but there's just no hurry."

The second part of today's Gospel is about a shriveled fig tree that no longer produces fruit. The tree didn't become a flop overnight. It got that way through years of neglect : no pruning, no watering, no fertilizing, until one year it failed to produce a single fig. This tree had a lot of time : fig trees often live for centuries : but ultimately even that amount of time runs out.

There's some bad news and some good news here for us in this. The bad news first: the clock is ticking and our time on earth is limited. We have limited time to develop and share our gifts, limited time to become the good husbands and wives our spouses need us to be, limited time to become good parents for our children, limited time to become truly good friends for each other, and limited time to grow into the mature, loving people of faith God calls us to be. We're never absolutely certain how much time we still have, nor do we know when our time finally runs out.

Now for the good news! Though we can't change the past, God gives us the gift of the present moment, the gift of the "now." We have a loving God who continues to give us the time we need to get our lives together, to bear good fruit and lots of it, and to be done with regretting our past. Lent is the season of extra care we all need to soften the hardness of our hearts, to enrich and deepen the roots of our faith. The present is God's gift, a gift to be appreciated, to be used wisely. If we use time wisely, we will become what God calls us to be. If we use time poorly, that smart old devil in the back row wins. Remember his words? "Tell them there's no hurry!" But there is a hurry for each of us. The clock, yours and mine , keeps... ticking!

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