G O S P E L A N D H O M I L Y — S U N D A Y III O F L E N T – – M A R C H 3, 2 0 1 0
From the holy Gospel according to Luke
At that time, there were some present who told Jesus 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 around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9)
A H O M I L Y
Some people were telling Jesus about the Galileans, whose blood Pontius Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices (Luke 13.1). What were they talking about? Every year at Passover time, many Jews from all over would gather in Jerusalem for the festival. Just as today during the Olympics, or any large international gathering of people, security was a concern. It was especially a concern in Jerusalem around the time of Our Lord. Palestine was occupied by a foreign power, the Romans, and as you can imagine, the Jews suffered from their overbearing, tax-extracting oppressors. There were Jewish factions that we would call terrorists or freedom fighters, who would cause trouble for the Romans. Every time there was a great gathering of Jews in Jerusalem, the Romans were nervous. Potius Pilate, the Roman governor, was responsible for the security, and he was known to be heavy-handed when dealing with resistance. It is thought that probably these Galileans were suspected of being trouble-makers, and Pilate dealt with it by ordering the Roman soldiers to cut them down, probably in the Temple area itself, maybe even while they were about to, or preparing to offer their sacrifices. The presence of foreign soldiers in the temple, and the bloodshed in their most holy place would have been an outrage for the Jews.
The horrible things that happen today also raise many issues. In fact, some people even use these tragic events as proof that either God does not care, or even that He does not exist. If there was a good God, how could he allow this to happen? This was not the issue in the ancient world. Generally nobody doubted the existence of God or gods. The issue brought to Jesus would have been, what evil those Galileans must have been guilty of in order for God to allow them to die in such a terrible way.
Jesus, however, wants them to look at the event differently. Were those Galileans sinners? Of course they were. We all are. In fact they were probably no worse sinners than you or I. He was challenging them to ask themselves these questions. When you hear of awful misfortune happening to others, do you think that you are not a sinner or less of a sinner because it did not happen to you? Are you so special that God cannot do without you in the life, that somehow he owes you a place in this world? Do you think that your place here is safe because you are not as bad as other people?
Jesus takes the point even further. Let’s forget about the evil Romans. What about the other headline—the one about the eighteen people who were buried alive when the tower at Siloam fell on them. Today we would ask, who’s responsible for this—the engineers, the builders? Who can we sue? Back then, the question would have been, what could those victims have done that would urge God either to make the tower fall, or at least, allow it to. They clung to the idea that God makes bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. Therefore, if bad things are not happening to you, you must be in God’s good books, and so you cannot be all that bad after all. In our Lord’s time, and even today, when tragedy strikes, our first reaction is to point the finger either at God, evil doers, or the victims themselves. Jesus wants us to focus not so much on others, but to consider this. There is no good reason why I could not have been one of the victims in these tragic events. All that would be needed is me to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What if I were vacationing in Haiti, or Chile, or the coast of Western Europe, or on a ferry boat, or in a plane when tragedy all of a sudden. Would I be ready to come before God face to face? The Gospel solution is that we need to be always ready.
Many think that the world will last for a very long time, if not forever (as long as man does not destroy it himself). Some Buddhists believe that the earth will be around for over 5 billion years. If that is the case, then we should make our life last as long as possible in this world. The Christian attitude, however, is very different. Although we seek to live healthy lives, yet our overriding concern is not to live the longest life possible, but to be ready to meet God whenever we are called from this life. In fact, unlike some Buddhist who are confident that the world will last a very long time, we Christians profess that we have no idea when the end of the world will come. It could be in the next five minutes, for all we know. We actually want the end of the world to be soon because that is when Christ will come again. A careful reading of the New Testament shows that the first Christians expected Christ to return in glory to judge the living and the dead during their very own lifetime. In fact, every time we pray the Our Father and say “thy kingdom come” we are praying for the Second Coming of Christ, when the kingdom that Jesus began and proclaimed will come to its complete fulfillment. Also, at Mass we pray the words “…as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Here is a test of how deeply I have taken to heart the Christian way. If the thought of Christ coming in the next five minutes fills me with dread, fear, and regret, then that is a sign that I still have a ways to go in my conversion process. What does this resistance to the Second Coming and the end of the world say about me? Am I so attached to the things of this world that I prefer them to entering Heaven? Is there some attitude or something ongoing in my life, or some unrepented sin that worries me when I think about coming before Christ my Judge and Saviour?
What should be my reaction to news of tragedy? I should think of the poor victims and survivors and how I can help them. However, I should also think of how patient God is with me. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree. The owner of the tree is fed up with waiting for it to produce fruit and wants to cut it down. The gardener, who stands for Christ, wants to wait. He asks for a little more time to do the special things that will encourage the tree to bear fruit. Only after this extra effort and time, if there is no fruit, then cut it down. In his mercy God has given us this these days to change for the better and to do the good. If we are spared misfortune, it is not so that we can sit back and relax. In Luke chapter twelve, we find another parable on the topic of delay. Jesus says: “Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find him at work. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in two, and put him with the unfaithful.” (Luke 12:43, 45-46).
Do not delay. Now is the time to repent. Today is day to act. Pray that the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us, will change our hearts so that we will look forward with joyful, hopeful heart to the coming of our Blessed Lord in all his glory.