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Lent 3          Year C

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective

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St. Luke 13: 1 — 9

 

Introduction

This reading is made up of a warning (verses 1— 5) to repent or perish followed by a parable (verses 6 — 9), which explains how to respond. The word “repent” comes from the Greek Metanoeo and involves a change of mind and heart which is manifest in a turning from sin and turning towards God. This can sound all too familiar and soon fade away “like water off a ducks back”. Let’s take a closer look and listen to what our Lord is really saying.

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Reflections On Our Text

Verse 1

At that time some people who were present there told him
about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with
the blood of their sacrifices.

We do not know the exact circumstances in which this account takes place, but the location is certainly away from Jerusalem. Some people arrive where Jesus is teaching and describe yet another brutal massacre by one of Pilate’s many patrols out on a rampage. Some Galileans had been offering sacrifices at the Temple in the prescribed way. Pilate’s soldiers interrupted the ceremony and slaughtered them so that their own blood was mixed with that of their sacrificial victims. IOt6 was very perilous being a devout Jew in those times.

Verse 2

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?

It is obvious from how they told the story that they thought the victims must have been exceptionally sinful to have been allowed by God to receive such punishment. Our Lord is quick to point out how wrong they are.

Verse 3

By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will
all perish as they did!

“Let me be very emphatic”; says Jesus, “You are quite wrong. In fact if you don’t repent of your own sinfulness you’ll perish in the same way”.

Verse 4

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?

Then He drives home the point by adding, “And it’s no use, either, claiming that the eighteen who died when the tower they were building at Siloam collapsed on them, were any worse than the rest of Jerusalem”. In other words, “You have no grounds on which to compare yourselves with others less fortunate and then pride yourselves on a supposed superior righteousness. Quite the opposite. Unless you make a spiritual turn-around in your own life, you will suffer a worse fate”. He doesn’t “mince words”.

There are times when our Lord can appear to get rather abrupt. These usually occur when He is confronted with an open manifestation of an attitude of superiority. And this is one of those occasions, which deserves a corresponding warning: “Repent or perish!” And so He lets them have it.

Verses 5 — 6

By no means! But I tell you, if you 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,

But typical of His style, after hitting home very hard, He offers a way through what seems an impossible situation. Without delay he starts telling a simple parable. It is the well-known story of the barren fig tree. Fig trees and other fruit trees were sometimes planted in patches in a vineyard where it would be awkward to get at the grapes. In our story the owner of the vineyard had planted a fig tree and went after a period of time, to look for fruit on it.

Verse 7

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?’

Since fruit could not be taken from a tree during the first three years (Leviticus19: 23) this tree in our parable was presumably six years old, for he declares: “For three years I have been looking for fruit and so far it has not produced any”. Meaning, it has therefore reached an age that if it did not bear fruit now, it was unlikely to do so in the future.

So he gives the instruction: “It’s using up valuable space to no advantage: cut it down!” We don’t blame the owner for a decision like that. It is completely reasonable.

Verses 8 and 9

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’.”

However, the gardener is prepared to speak up for the fig tree. “Yes Sir, it is not doing what you put it there to do. May I leave it in place one more year, and do what I don’t normally need to do with such trees. I will give it very special extra attention. Perhaps its roots are struggling to find their place. I will loosen the soil and help them to go down and find moisture. It seems to need extra food. I will apply abundant fertilizer so that it has all it needs. It will only take one season to see if it will bear fruit. At the end of this time, if it has not responded to all the care I can give it, then, by all means, let it be cut down”.

The parable ends here without a closing. It is, as we would say, open-ended.

On Reflection

Clearly, the gardener is Jesus. He has left His short parable open-ended because while He was certainly making a point to His listeners present, He has a message for all in the future who are willing to pause and listen to Him.

The owner of the vineyard was entirely reasonable. He had every right to expect a tree to develop at its normal pace and in due course to mature — i.e. to do what mature plants do — bear fruit. If a plant has its development interrupted, and it cannot become what it is meant to be, then something has to be done. Something has to change. In this case, of itself the tree can do nothing. The loving gardener recognises this but also knows what the tree can become if only it will respond to the care he is prepared to lavish upon it. He therefore pleads on its behalf, needing only one season to test whether the tree will respond or remain stunted and useless.

As usual, in our readings, Jesus warns people not to slip into the dangerous rut of judging how evil others must be while excusing and overlooking their own actions. His warning is anything but subtle. However, He hints to those who ponder His teaching, that He can help us repent — help us turn our lives around. Like the caring gardener in His parable, if we are prepared to let Him, He will “dig around” and apply all we need for growth, and, as He hints, much more.

This is a parable of the living Word of God at work in us. He will open up the ground of our being and feed the roots. We, like the tree (if it is really alive), must take it in, feed on what He provides and do what the Word requires. This is Christ, our Torah, pleading with us to let Him guide our whole life. It is about listening with the intention to follow His advice: listening to the deeper message, and allowing it to shape our lives.

It is a parable about the mercy of God who sends His Word to save what cannot save itself. But there is a time set aside for this, and that time is already being extended. A positive response is expected: in fact, it is demanded. The message is addressed to every follower, and there is an urgency about it: an urgency to produce the required fruit of His teaching, or face destruction. (Matt. 25: 31 — 46).

We close with some fitting remarks by a 19th century scholar J. C. Ryle.

“There are many in every congregation who hear the Gospel,
who are literally hanging over the brink of the pit. They have
lived for years in the best part of God’s vineyard, and yet
borne no fruit. They have heard the Gospel preached faithfully
for hundreds of Sundays, and yet have never embraced it, and
taken up the cross, and followed Christ. They do not perhaps
run into open sin; but they do nothing for God’s glory: there is
nothing positive about their religion. Of each of these the
Lord of the vineyard might say with truth, “I come these many
years seeking fruit on this tree and find none. Cut it down. It
cumbereth the ground.” There are myriads of respectable
professing Christians in this plight. They have not the least
idea how near they are to destruction. Never let us forget that
to be content with sitting in the congregation and hearing
sermons, while we bear no fruit in our lives, is conduct which
is most offensive to God …………….

We learn lastly, from this parable, what an infinite debt we all
owe to God’s mercy and Christ’s intercession. It seems
impossible to draw any other lesson from the earnest
pleading of the dresser of the vineyard: “Lord let it alone this
year also.” Surely we see here, as in a glass, the
loving-kindness of God, and the mediation of Christ.

Mercy has been truly called the darling attribute of God.
Power, justice, purity, holiness, wisdom unchangeableness,
are all parts of God’s character, and have all been manifested
to the world in a thousand ways, both in His works and in
His word. But if there is one part of His perfections
which He is pleased to exhibit to man more clearly
than another, beyond doubt that part is mercy.
He is a God that “delighteth in mercy.”  
(Micah 7: 18.)

 

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Lent 3 ― Year C

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in
doing so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples
illustrating how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights
for your on-going reflection.

 One More Year  

Lent 3    Year C          Luke 13: 1 — 9

 1. This parable is a clear reminder that if we are followers of Jesus Messiah
— of Christ the Word — Christ our Torah — then we have duties and
obligations to perform; expectations to meet. This is not exactly Jesus:
“gentle, meek and mild” talking! This is the Word of God made flesh, being
quite clear — produce the required fruit or prepare to be removed from His
vineyard.

2. The parable is not some vague hint dangling in outer space. There is a
time set for us to perform our required duties. There is a time set for the
Return of the Owner of His vineyard, and the sorting out of those on whom
His Divine Word has had no effect.

3. Jesus Christ is the devoted carer who tries to open up our hearts with
His teaching and Who pleads our cause before the Throne of Heaven.

Let us pray for one another, and for Christ’s Body, the Church, that we will
have the humility and courage a) to be shown by the light of the Holy Spirit,
where we are lacking in our required Christian observance, and b) to seek
the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help to remedy these defects.

Shalom

 Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections

 

Luke 13: 1 — 9

 Lent 3          Year C

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

1     At that time some people who were present there told him about
       the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of
       their sacrifices.

2     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?

3     By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all
       perish as they did!

4     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?

5     By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all
       perish as they did!”

6     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,

7     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?’

8     He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall
       cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;

9     it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down’.”

1 [1-32] To the parable of the lost sheep (⇒ Luke 15:1-7) that Luke shares with Matthew (⇒ Matthew 18:12-14), Luke adds two parables (the lost coin, ⇒ Luke 15:8-10; the prodigal son, ⇒ Luke 15:11-32) from his own special tradition to illustrate Jesus’ particular concern for the lost and God’s love for the repentant sinner.
 

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner.
All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

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