3rd Sunday of Lent Year C.
Gospel Reading: Luke 13:1-9
Vs.1 It was about this time that some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices.
Vs.2 At this, he said to them, “Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans?
Vs.3 They were not, I tell you. No, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.
Vs.4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose they were more guilty than all other people living in Jerusalem?
Vs.5 They were not, I tell you. No, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.”
Vs.6 He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but he found none.
Vs.7 He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, ‘Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down, why should it be taking up the ground?’
Vs.8 ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it:
Vs.9 it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’”
This gospel is less well known than the other gospels in Lent and the first impression could be off- putting.
It has two distinct sections. In the first we see how Jesus rejected the popular belief that God inflicts violence and death as a punishment for sin,but rather, for Jesus, these things come about as a direct result of sin which generates a culture of death, destruction and desolation. And so Jesus challenges the prejudice of those who believe that such “terrible things” could never happen to them because they consider themselves to be without sin.
In the parable of the fig tree we recognize the patience and tenderness of God in “the gardener” who is prepared to invest more time and energy and care into the fruitless tree, hoping and believing that it may still bear fruit, and yet realistic enough to know that if it doesn’t, a time may come when it will have to be cut down.
Where did this happen?
Jesus is still in Galilee, passing through different towns and villages on route to Jerusalem.
When did this happen?
This gospel is part of a long discourse which begins in chapter 12:1.At different moments Jesus is engaging with “his disciples” and then “crowds of people” and other moments like this one when “some people arrived” with news of a violent atrocity in the Temple in Jerusalem and are looking for a response from him.
Who was there?
In the first section “some people” -whom Jesus refers to as “you” – who believe there is a connection between the terrible suffering of the victims of these tragedies and their own sinfulness – that they got what they deserved, that they had it coming to them,- but that would never happen to us.
They meet a wise and discerning Jesus, aware of their prejudice, and not afraid to remind them that they are all sinners and as such are contributing to the culture of death, and unless there is a change of heart they would all be destroyed.
In the second section we have the “vineyard owner” and the “gardener “representing contrasting attitudes: one cold-hearted and harsh and the other caring and tender-hearted.
In Vs 1-5 we learn of two tragic events. The people tell Jesus of the violence of Pilate who slaughtered Galileans as they were offering their sacrifices in a fervent, respectful atmosphere in the Temple. It was a horrific scene with the blood of the people being mixed with the blood of the animals being sacrificed. It would seem that these people perceived this to be a punishment for their sins,and act of vengeance by an angry God.
He mentions another atrocity – the tower at Siloam. This was a tower being built by Pilate. He enlisted some Jews to help in its construction. Other Jews felt that as it was a pagan project they should not have helped. When the tower collapsed killing eighteen workers their deaths were interpreted as punishment from God, their own evil catching up with them.
We see a strong and angry Jesus challenging their perception of suffering as a punishment from God and laying bear their self-righteousness and calling them to repentance or else they too would be victims of such violence.
Jesus is reminding us that we all play our part, through our own sinfulness – pride, greed, hatred, selfishness etc. – in creating a world where there is so much violence. The story of sin in our own lives is closely connected to the pain and suffering of humanity, and without repentance we are all heading for disaster.
Vs 6-9, in the Parable of the Fig Tree Jesus communicates his message in a direct and precise way. In V.6 we have a crisis moment – the vineyard owner expected fruit but found none. We can feel his disappointment – the barren fig tree failed to live up to his expectation. His answer was “cut it down” – what good is a fig tree if it doesn’t bear fruit? The attitude of the gardener was very different. He cared about the tree. He had watched it grow. He had looked after it for many years and didn’t want to give up on it now, too easily. And yet at the same time he was realistic enough to know that it couldn’t go on indefinitely like this “Leave it one more year…
The gardener exemplifies the heart of the Lord in todays psalm 102 – “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so strong is his love for those who fear him.”
The first Reading from Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15, while not directly connected to the Gospel shows this tender loving God in action – moved by the suffering of his children God prepares and commissions Moses for this work of liberation and the delivery of his people to the promised land – “ a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow.”
In the second Reading Paul tells the Corinthians that the “saving work of Jesus already there” in the liberation of the Jewish people. “They all drank from the spiritual rock, and that rock was Christ.” In the spirit of lectio divina Paul looks back into the old testament world and sees the same saving work of Jesus already going on there.
Guidelines for meditation that might be of some help.
Can you remember hearing of some natural disaster in some other area and you were shocked and challenged when someone suggested that our way of life could be a contributing factor and unless we had a change of lifestyle we could all be in danger? – “Do you suppose they were more guilty?…unless you repent you will all perish.”
Can you recall hearing of violence or bloodshed and thinking that this was something that only happened to other people and in other places, until someone brought home to you very forcibly that unless we all had a change of heart, and addressed the seeds of violence within ourselves, we were all heading in the same direction? – “Do you suppose that these Galileans who suffered….no, unless you repent you will all perish.”
Can you recognize the man who ‘looked after the vineyard’? Someone who in the face of human weakness, shortcomings or failure was firm and realistic and yet at the same time deeply compassionate and caring and who pleaded.. ‘leave it for one more year….?’
What about the man who owned the vineyard? When have you seen someone in authority so exacting, demanding and lacking in humanity, who showed no mercy in the face of human weakness or wrongdoing? “Cut it down, why should it be taking up the ground?
Can you remember an experience of suffering in your own life or in the life of someone close to you and you were tempted to think it was a punishment for some sin in your life or in your past but someone or some event has freed you from this false image of a punishing God (‘owner of the vineyard’), and now we are slowly coming to know the tender heart of the one ‘who looks after the vineyard?’
Let the prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and petition flow from your meditation – ideally these are expressed in our own words interlaced with words from the passage. (See introduction to Lectio stages.)
Let the rich silence of God’s presence grow and deepen as we journey to a prayer of no words and no images – simple presence to the presence of God. (Contemplative moment – see introduction).
We reflect on our experience of the work of God in the passage and in life until a truth or some truths emerge – new insights into life and love – which can be savoured and celebrated in prayer as they release their life-giving power in us, moulding and shaping our minds and hearts and bearing fruit in our lives. (Wisdom Moment – see introduction).