Third Sunday of Lent, 24th March

Luke 13:1–9 At that very time there were some present who told him
about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He
asked them, 'Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they
were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you
repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when
the tower of Siloam fell on them-do you think that they were worse offenders
than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent,
you will all perish just as they did.' Then he told this parable: A man had a
fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found
none. So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come
looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why
should it be wasting the soil?" He replied, "Sir, let it alone for
one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next
year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down."Commentary Today’s gospel reading begins with some people from Galilee
had evidently been offering sacrifice in the temple. And because of some
disturbance they caused, or some crime against the Roman authority, Pilate had
them massacred where they stood. From the Jewish historian, Josephus, we can be
sure that Pilate was capable of such a rash act.

After telling Jesus about what had happened at the temple,
he asked them a question. This question was asked because it was a very old and
common opinion among the Jews that sudden or serious misfortunes were caused by
the sins of those who suffered such misfortunes. We know of this opinion from
the Book of Job. It was evidently those who brought the news of this misfortune
had implied this, but Jesus says no. he does not say they were not simmers but
that they were no worse than others.

Jesus reminds all his hearers that they are all sinners and
have need for repentance. He tells them that sinners who refuse to repent will
perish, and more than the temporal death which all must face one day.

Then Jesus himself refers to another accident which had
caused the sudden death of eighteen men, and very likely this accident had also
been attributed to the grievous personal sins of those involved. He points out
that there were many other citizens of Jerusalem who were just as guilty, if
not more so, than those unfortunates. And again he urges repentance unless they
wish a worse fate to befall themselves.

After these, Jesus tells a parable about a man and a fig
tree. Although he does not apply the parable, the meaning in the circumstances
is clear. The Jews were God’s fig tree; he had planted them and cared for them
and expected fruit but they produced none. He now decides to cut them down. But
the gardener, evidently a figure of Christ himself, pleads to give them one
more chance, one more year in which he would do everything possible to change
their attitude. If they then failed God could deal with them. We all know the

There is one theme and lesson running through in today’s
gospel. It is the need for repentance. Some sinners are punished in this life
but an earthly punishment is no proof of greater sin, nor is it the real
punishment that must be feared. The parable of the useless fig tree is applies
directly to the stubborn Jews of Christ’s time, has a lesson for all time and
for all sinners. God’s mercy is infinite but man’s earthly, during which he can
obtain that mercy, is very finite. God’s mercy can forgive sins no matter how
grievous, but it cannot forgive even less serious sins unless the sinner is
sorry and asks for forgiveness.

Christ, our rue mediator with God, is continually
interceding for us, but unless we do our part by repenting and changing our
behavior, his intercession will be of no avail to us. No man is lost because
God so wishes it, but no man is saved unless he himself wishes it and works for

Think on this parable of the fruitless fig tree today. If
your conscience tells you that it applies to you, think also that Christ is
interceding for you. He has obtained for you a moratorium, a period in which
you can prove yourself fruitful. Use that gift of God with gratitude and you
shall obtain the result that God wants, and that in all good sense, you should
want as well. Amen.