This is one of those scriptural readings that it is easy to slide over. I don't know about you but if I sit down to read one of the Gospels I find myself dwelling on the interesting passages and hardly bothering about some others; the eye seems to glide over the text and on to something more interesting.
Or maybe you never read the Bible at home. Maybe it's something reserved for Church. I'm sure that everyone prays at home, but an important way of praying is to use scripture.
Some people pray in a favourite chair or in bed. If you do have a favourite place to pray then why not place a copy of the Bible within easy reach; or if that's too heavy, then a copy of the New Testament. It is with good reason that the Gideons go to the expense of placing a Bible in each hotel room.
Keeping a Bible near you when you pray will certainly pay dividends. And, no doubt, you will find that from time to time you do look up your favourite passages: the Twenty-third Psalm, the Marriage Feast of Cana, the Crucifixion, the Supper at Emmaus and so on.
But perhaps you won't be over interested in this passage before us today and yet it does have some merit and the Church places it before us on this the third Sunday of Lent for good reasons. So let's take a look at it.
There are two incidents from the local news, as it were, that the people come and tell Jesus. Or at least they tell him about the first one and he mentions the second one which had obviously recently happened and was at the front of everyone's mind. Neither of these incidents is mentioned in any of the other Gospels but there is ample evidence of similar things having taken place and so there is no reason to doubt them as historical incidents.
The first is the treatment meted out by Pilate to the Galileans. We don't know what these Galileans did to incur Pilate's wrath but it is known from other sources that Pilate was an administrator who reached quickly for violent solutions.
The execution of these men for rebellion was one thing; but to do so in the Temple itself and then for their blood to be mixed with the blood of the ritual sacrifices is quite another. To a devout religious people it was a shocking and deliberate act of provocation and something Pilate was known to have done on other occasions.
We can see how the question to Jesus is framed by looking at his response: Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than any other Galileans? Often a tragic event was seen as a product of sin. Even though it was Pilate who commanded this atrocity to be carried out, the natural assumption at the time was to think that the victims themselves must have been guilty and somehow deserved their fate.
The same sort of thing was being said about the men in the watchtower. The people assumed that the fall of the tower was punishment for sin, not bad design or overloading or poor construction materials. Somehow those men must have been blameworthy.
But Jesus cuts them off and gets to the real point as he sees it. Forget about whether those particular Galileans were sinful; think about yourselves, it's time you repented for your own sin. And don't worry what those fellows had done who were in that tower in the city wall which collapsed. No, worry about your own actions and repent now while you've got the chance! Jesus preaches the urgent message of repentance. Don't wait till tomorrow; repent today! Tomorrow never comes, and in any case tomorrow might be too late.
But then Jesus moves on in his discourse and tells the people a parable about a fig tree which seems to give a contradictory message. The master wants to cut down the fig tree because it has produced no fruit for three years. The horticulturist tells him to wait another year to give him time to dig round it and give it manure so that it will bear fruit the following year. The inference is seemingly that we who have not repented do actually have time; time for Jesus to use his influence on us, to help us to come to repentance.
So, in the first half of the text we have Jesus telling the people to repent before it’s too late and then saying that actually there is time. But I suppose the two halves are not in contradiction if we realise that the fig tree is only being given another year and not an infinite amount of time.
Often, however, the fig tree is considered as a symbol of the People of Israel and this parable is perhaps meant to indicate that Jesus will work on the Jews for a little while longer before cutting them off as a lost cause and opening up wholeheartedly to the Gentiles.
So that's another way of looking at it; there are always with the Gospels several angles of approach which is one of the things that makes them so interesting and fruitful for meditation.
I suggest that the main message of this gospel whether it is addressed to the people as individuals or to the nation as a whole is this: the clock is ticking; repent now while you've got the chance. And you will agree that this is a most suitable message for the middle of Lent.
This is the third Sunday of Lent, and Lent is a special time devoted to repentance and what you might call, spiritual spring-cleaning. As usual we will be holding a Penitential Service on Wednesday of Holy Week in St Mary Magdalen Church at which there will be the opportunity to go to confession.
There is no better way to take these words of Jesus to heart than to go to confession. There is no better time to go to confession than during Lent. There is no better opportunity you could have than to come to the Lenten Penitential Service where you can have the choice of confessors.
The clock is ticking, but its tick is a friendly one. It invites us to do what in our hearts we really want to do, to turn to Christ, acknowledge our faults and failings and receive from him mercy, forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket