In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks to the people about things which are as familiar to us as they were to the people then. One is a brutal act by a ruler: Pontius Pilate mingling the blood of Galileans with the blood of their sacrifices. The other is a horrible accident that takes the lives of people: A tower at Siloam falling and killing eighteen people. What Jesus says about these things and the parable that He tells afterwards have something to say about His Cross and the crosses we bear.
When people tell Jesus about the Galileans, He says, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!” He then says something similar about the victims of the accident: “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!” What Jesus is saying refutes a common human reaction to suffering and the crosses in our lives. They are often seen as punishments from God. And here Jesus is saying, “By no means!” While I do believe that God lets us at times suffer the consequences of our actions, I don’t believe that God uses tragedies like these to punish us, or punish our country or even our world.
The crosses come. Suffering is a part of life. Sometimes in hindsight we can find some meaning in it. At other times we are helpless to offer any explanation. And sometimes, we can see how God brought something good out of it, but again, not always. At those times we try to put our trust in God.
In the parable of the fig tree that Jesus tells, it can seem to give the lie to what I just said. In the parable, the owner of a fig tree that has not given fruit for three years is ready to cut it down: “Why should it exhaust the soil?” But the gardener says, “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.” Now if we take the fig tree to represent us, then the parable may seem to put Jesus in the role of the gardener and God the Father in the role of the owner and that Jesus is staying the hand of an angry Father. But I’m not sure that’s the only way to look at it. For me, as I look at the Cross of Christ, I see Jesus’ Body and Blood poured out for us as opening us up to bear good “fruit” to others. I see Jesus’ love for us on the Cross as the “fertilizer,” so to speak, that causes that same kind of love to grow in us. And God is waiting for us to respond.
For how we respond to the love of Jesus; how we respond to the crosses in our lives, is still up to us. Too many times in human history have people taken on the role of the owner in the parable and decided that others should not “exhaust the soil” and live any longer. Too many times have people acted as Pilate did with the Galileans who were killed. And so, Jesus does call us to repentance. While we trust in the mercy of God, we are not to take God’s mercy for granted. Just as we are not to take anyone we love for granted, we are not to do that with God as well.
My we let the love of Christ break us open so that we can grow in His love and bear the fruits of love and compassion and mercy to those who are carrying heavy crosses in their lives.
Fr. Phil, CP