Third Sunday in Lent (20 March 22)

Luke Chapter 13 begins with two incidents:

One, where Pilate required the Galileans, who were protestors against him, to construct an aqueduct. He sent disguised soldiers to mingle with the crowd whom they attacked and killed some of them. The second incident was when the tower of Siloam fell on eighteen men and who were regarded as sinners, by the Jews, because the money they earned was due to God which in fact had been stolen from the treasury in Jerusalem. The Jews rigidly connected sin and suffering and construed it as punishment by God. Sinful lives carry the seed of their own destruction.

At the beginning of this Chapter some men came to tell Jesus about these protestors, Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices in the Temple. The Jews rigidly connected sin and suffering, and it was construed as punishment by God. Sinful lives carry the seed of their own destruction. Jesus knew that if the Jews continued rebelling, plotting and had political ambitions they would finally be obliterated by Rome. The nation sought an earthly kingdom rejecting God’s kingdom. In Luke Chapter 12, Jesus asks the followers, ”How can you not read the signs of the times. Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” Again here in Chapter 13 He asks them to decide what is right but stresses that unless they repent they, too, will perish.

Narratives, visuals of destruction, violence and distressing horror capture our attention today and reports of atrocities by Pilate seem futile in comparison. Jesus is trying to point out a time of great danger and fore
-warning of the destruction of Jerusalem. This nation chooses its own policy and reaps the fruit from it. One cannot attribute human suffering to human sin but the nation rebelling against God will eventually end in disaster.
Jesus is pointing to the urgency of the situation and what is at stake – an urgency to act and an urgency to repent – offering a chance of repentance and forgiveness. We need to put into life as much as we take out. We are judged according to the opportunities we’re given.

Jesus teaches by way of a parable – the withered fig-tree. There are more than thirty-six trees mentioned in the Old and New Testament, but Jesus’ choice of the fig tree gives us a glimpse of hope and a second chance. But let us first see the role of the fig-tree during Biblical times.

We come to understand the pivotal role the fig-tree plays in rainforests, sustaining species of wildlife more than any other group of plants. The fruit cycle is approximately 120 -150 days and it can live as long as 200 years, but it needs nourishment. Fig trees grow slowly and fruit takes time to mature normally three years to maturity and if after that time no fruit appears it can be destroyed.

There are two men in this parable: the owner and the employee who has tended the garden. This tree occupied a favoured position and was cared for by the gardener, but it has borne nothing for three years. It takes three years to come to fruition. We also need time to mature and become bearers of fruit for the Lord. The gardener feels he needs more time to dig around and manure it, and if no fruit appears, then it can be cut down. Cutting down is a drastic action and sometimes leaves devastating effects. Do we have a false sense of security thinking such a thing will never happen to us? Cutting down can be a physical, emotional or spiritual separation from the life of the tree, God Himself and from friends. But here the gardener represents God’s compassion, and mercy granted for further activity in life. We, too have been planted in a privileged place and we know that appropriate fruit will be born, if and when, we repent and live for God. Our lives will be examined by the fruit we bear. Do I see God’s hand in all that has happened in my life?

We are like the tree drawing strength and sustenance from God and from those who care, love and challenge us in life. We need to put into life as much as we take out, or perhaps, do we take out more than we put in? Am I just taking up space where other more fruitful growth can take place? Without the care of someone else we would not have survived.

The owner grants another year of life to the tree. Jesus gives us many chances, even when we continue to fall. The parable makes it clear that there are many chances of renewal in life, unless we deliberately shut ourselves off from God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. We all carry particular faults in life, (in a sense being a deformed tree), but we know God sees our efforts to change and be transformed. We can be involved in what looks like impossible situations, but we can also pray to be merciful like the Father or Gardener.

We should be aware of God’s mercy and the extension of time in our lives. We need to be able to choose and take hold of borrowed time, as it is not permanent. Do I use the extra chance, do I take stock of my life? God in his mercy grants another day, another hour, another breath. We are answerable to God for our lives, for His daily nourishment and His everlasting forgiveness and love which sustains us. Just as the fig tree bore fruit once it had been fertilized and given special treatment, so will we be judged according to the opportunities given us, to repent, to be converted and become nourishment for others. Growth must continue from within, till fertility, growth and resurrection takes place.

Other reflective questions:
Do I feel my life is sterile like a withered fig-tree? What do I do about it? Am I patient and trusting even during the barren years? Or do I ask God for more time to bear fruit? Can I allow the Lord to dig around me and fill in places, even if it hurts, so that I can make something of my life? Do I look into my heart, and am I prompted to repentance and compassion, which can change my life? I am responsible for my life, so I need to make decisions as to how I am going to bloom and blossom.

“Cursing of the fig-tree is important for us today, for the Jews of Jesus’ time, were accountable for failing to bring forth fruit, so too are we accountable for fruits we bring forth.” Eric Huntsman

Cynthia Thompson, OP

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