29th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday
Bad news flashes from every media outlet twenty-four hours a day. In every corner of the world, locally and globally, people are suffering and dying. Sitting behind a screen or newspaper, judgment and blame pass back and forth, leaving no room for contemplative silence.
How did Jesus respond to the latest bad news of his day?
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.Luke 13:1
Pilate’s brutality was well known. In the accounts of Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, incidents of military and political violence against Jews and Samaritans were recorded. In Luke’s news flash, some unfortunate Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem were killed by Pilate’s soldiers during a sacrificial slaughter of animals.
He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!Luke 13:2-3
Jesus dispelled the notion that all misfortune is the result of personal sin (retribution principle). Instead of offering an explanation for the mass murder, he counseled the news reporters to examine their own hearts.
Bad news distracts us from paying attention to what is within, but a contemplative outlook perceives that the suffering of others is our own.
Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”Luke 13:4-5
Jesus offered another news flash: an accidental, mass death by the collapse of a tower in the old wall of ancient Jerusalem. Instead of judging and blaming the dead, the news offered an occasion to reflect on one’s own need of divine mercy and grace. As the preceding parables warned, life is short and unpredictable. Our hearts must be prepared, for any day may be our last.
And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down’”Luke 13:6-9
St. Augustine writes:
This tree is the human race. The Lord visited this tree in the time of the patriarchs, as if for the first year. He visited it in the time of the law and the prophets, as if for the second year. Here we are now; with the gospel the third year has dawned. Now it is as though it should have been cut down, but the merciful one intercedes with the merciful one. He wanted to show how merciful he was, and so he stood up to himself with a plea for mercy. “Let us leave it,” he says, “this year too. Let us dig a ditch around it.” Manure is a sign of humility. “Let us apply a load of manure; perhaps it may bear fruit.”Sermon 254.3
As long as it is today, the tree may still bear fruit. Jesus, our merciful gardener, has granted us yet another day to spend it in love, praise, and service of the Lord of life and creation.