Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus 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! 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 y0ou do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” 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.'”
Lent is about God’s mercy, and the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent is about God’s mercy.
In the first part of the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of those killed by Pilate and those killed by a disaster. Jesus makes clear that their fates do not mean that they were worse sinners or more guilty than others. Rather, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). It is tempting to think of those who have committed terrible crimes – genocide, war crimes, murder, human trafficking, child abuse – are worse sinners than others, and worse sinners than me! Their sins may be grave, but we cannot be tempted to fall into the notion that, because I have not committed these very grave sins then I am not in need of repentance. I do not have to sin so gravely to be in need of God’s mercy. My sins are sufficient for my damnation! Rather, regardless of how grave or how many are our sins, we all must rely on the mercy of God for our salvation. Christ came to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, for all of the sins of all of us.
The second part of the Gospel is about the fig tree that did not produce fruit. Many of us are like the farmer, eager to separate ourselves from sinners, forgetting that we are sinners ourselves. The gardener is like God, eager to give the fig tree, and us, one more chance. Of course, God gives us innumerable chances. He is slow to condemn and eager to forgive. However, there is the responsibility for those who have received God’s grace in baptism to go out and produce fruit for the kingdom. It is our call to live the gospel and share the gospel, encouraging others to turn to Jesus and receive God’s mercy. If we fail to do this, there will be judgment. This parable is not unlike that of the master who gave his money to servants during his absence with the expectation that they would invest that money and draw a return. When the servants who invested the money received interest, they were rewarded. But one feared the master and allowed that fear to freeze his imagination and actions. So, he hid the money out of fear of losing it and was satisfied to simply return the amount to the master on his return. The master, however, was furious. He punished the servant for his lack of initiative. Fr. Robert Karris, OFM, writing for the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, says that this passage, “teaches disciples that Jesus is compassionate but not wishy-washy. He demands that sinners repent before it is too late.”
Lent is about God’s mercy. But God’s mercy must be responded to, embraced. God does not force His will on us. We must respond, and part of that response is to live the gospel and share the gospel.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.