3rd Sunday of Lent (C) ///Luke 13:1-9 – Barren Fig Tree – 3rd Sunday of Lent ///Luke 13:1-9 – Call to Repentance – 3rd Sunday of Lent
3rd Sunday of Lent (C)
///Luke 13:1-9 – Barren Fig Tree – 3rd Sunday of Lent
///Luke 13:1-9 – Call to Repentance – 3rd Sunday of Lent
A Call to Repentance and the Parable of the
Barren Fig Tree
Gospel commentary excerpts from a variety of sources. Click on links to view original source material and/or read more.
Three kinds of tragedies in today’s Gospel:
- Human tragedy caused by evil people; and,
- Natural tragedy caused by accidents or natural events.
- Greatest tragedy of eternal separation from God in hell
Human Tragedy (v 1-2)
1Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled…
Protests Against Roman Rule
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – The “Pilate” mentioned in verse 1 is Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor of Samaria and Judea (AD 26-36). That Pilate was the cause of a massacre suggests the Galileans had come to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices at the Temple and were perhaps involved in some protest against Roman rule.
SERMON WRITER – Galileans came to the temple to make their sacrifices, and Pilate’s soldiers slaughtered them in that holy place—profaned the altar with human blood—compounded murder with sacrilege. Imagine murder in your church on Sunday morning. Imagine the carpet soaked with human blood mingled with communion wine. Shocking and doubly shocking!
Natural Tragedy (v 4)
2Eighteen people killed when the tower at Siloam fell
The Tower in Siloam
JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY – the tower in Siloam: Probably one of the towers that guarded the aqueduct bringing water to the pool of Siloam (cf. Jn 9:3), to the S of the eastern corner of Jerusalem. Jesus does not give his support to Zealot plots or to acts of terror against Rome; he concludes only to the urgency of repentance.
Greatest Tragedy (v 3,5)
3If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!
Luke’s Theme of Repentance
SERMON WRITER – Repentance is a major emphasis in this Gospel (Luke 3:3; 3:8; 5:32; 13:3, 5; 15:7; 16:30; 17:3; 24:47). It is not a nagging call, but instead offers an implicit promise of salvation. If they don’t repent, they will perish, but if they do repent, God will forgive—will save them.
Jesus Corrects a Common Jewish Belief
SERMON WRITER – In Israel’s mind, sin and judgment are closely linked. It is oddly comforting to believe that suffering is the result of sin, because it eliminates randomness—explains suffering—offers us a way to avoid the disasters that we see befalling others. Jesus denies that the Galileans suffered because of their sins, but calls his listeners to repent lest they suffer for theirs. What happened to the Galileans is history, and nothing can be done about it. The fate of Jesus’ listeners, however, is still negotiable. Jesus does not condemn them, but instead shows them the way. His purpose is to redeem. While not all tragedy is the result of sin, sin sometimes leads to tragedy. Jesus’ listeners have sinned (as we all have), and he calls them to repent so that they might escape disaster.
DR BRANT PITRE – The implication being that they will perish spiritually and die “the death” of spiritual death just like those Pilate and the tower killed physically died.So, while it is not necessarily the case that all sin causes physical suffering and/or physical death, it is clear that all sin does cause spiritual death, which is far worse, as that is permanent and eternal.
Tragedies as Providential Invitations
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – Jesus’s teaching is that the personal sins of the victims were not the immediate cause of either tragedy (also see Jesus’s teaching in John 9:3). Instead, Jesus asked the crowd to view such tragedies as providential invitations for continual conversion by examining one’s own life and relationship to God and responding with humble repentance for one’s sins. One never knows when a similar tragedy could claim one’s life. In the case of a sudden tragedy, there is no longer the opportunity to repent and make one’s life right with God before one must face God’s divine judgment and make a final accounting for one’s sins.
🔴 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
BUT NOT REALLY APPLICABLE TO TODAY’S READING
A Question Far More Important…
BIBLE.ORG – Rather than asking the question “Why?” with regard to suffering, we should ask the question, “What?” What does this tragedy teach me?
FR. MICHAEL CHUA– Rather than becoming fixated on why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people, perhaps we should refocus our thoughts on something far more important – we need to turn to lens upon ourselves….
God is not the one who is on trial. It is ‘we’ who are being called to account for our response, our attitude and our actions.
The million dollar question is… “when the Son of Man comes, will he find us repentant?” Time to heed Jesus’ warning: “unless you repent you will all perish as they did!”
Jesus is telling us not just to look out
but is asking us to look in;
He is concerned not just with what is going on in our heads
but wants us to look at what is happening in our hearts.
Fig Tree in orchard (v 6)
A person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard
Symbolism of the Fig Tree
|The fig tree||God’s old covenant people—the Jews|
|The orchard||The holy land of Israel|
|The owner of the orchard||God|
Old Testament Prophets
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – In the symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets,
- a FRUITFUL fig tree represented Israel in covenant unity and fidelity with God;
- an UNFRUITFUL fig tree indicated Israel’s covenant failure in her mission to God’s holy people when they failed to produce the “good fruit” of service (cf. Jer 8:13; 24:1-10)
No fruit on the tree (v 7)
“For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down.”
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – The reference to the three years the gardener worked with the tree may refer to “three” as a number symbolizing importance, usually signifying a future event in God’s divine plan for humanity’s salvation. It may also refer to Jesus’s mission that spanned three Passovers. During that time, He was “pruning” the false teachings that led to a rigid misinterpretation of the Law that lacked compassion (Lk 6:1-5, 9-11; 11:37-52; 13:10-16), His call for the covenant people to bear the good fruit of repentance, and to recognize Him as the promised Messiah. They failed to produce “good fruit,” but, as in the parable, Jesus (the gardener) asked God (the owner of the orchard and fig tree) for a little more time.
Clipart by Fr. Richard Lonsdale © 2000. Click image to view more clipart for this Sunday.
“Cut it down”
🔴 CATHOLIC PRAXIS
Repentance doesn’t mean going through life with your head down, feeling remorseful for being so bad. It means start doing something good. Start practicing what you believe in. Repent means start doing the tings that you know you should do.
Fertilizer (v 8)
“Cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it”
The Word for Dung
MARY M. MCGLONE – Enter the gardener who says, “Let me work on it, dig around it and give it some dung.” Pointedly, the word for dung, kopria, shares some meaning with the word for troubles (kopos), which is what the widow gives to the unjust judge and the person seeking bread for the hungry gives to the sleeper who has food to spare (Luke 18:5; 11:7). Jesus’ gardener, like the widow and the seeker, wants to spur the production of fruit, another way of speaking of the activity that flows from conversion.
Related Page: Discussion Questions
CROSS REFERENCES SOURCE: B. Blayney, Thomas Scott, and R.A. Torrey with John Canne, Browne, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, vol. 2 (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.).
1. There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilæans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered such things?
3. I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
4. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
5. I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
GLOSS. As He had been speaking of the punishments of sinners, the story is fitly told Him of the punishment of certain particular sinners, from which He takes occasion to denounce vengeance also against other sinners: as it is said, There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilæans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. For these were followers of the opinions of Judas of Galilee, of whom Luke makes mention in the Acts of the Apostles, (Acts 5:37.) who said, that we ought to call no man master. Great numbers of them refusing to acknowledge Cæsar as their master, were therefore punished by Pilate. They said also that men ought not to offer God any sacrifices that were not ordained in the law of Moses, and so forbade to offer the sacrifices appointed by the people for the safety of the Emperor and the Roman people. Pilate then, being enraged against the Galilæans, ordered them to be slain in the midst of the very victims which they thought they might offer according to the custom of their law; so that the blood of the offerers was mingled with that of the victims offered. Now it being generally believed that these Galilæans were most justly punished, as sowing offences among the people, the rulers, eager to excite against Him the hatred of the people, relate these things to the Saviour, wishing to discover what He thought about them. But He, admitting them to be sinners, does not however judge them to have suffered such things, as though they were worse than those who suffered not. Whence it follows, And he answered and said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, &c.
CHRYSOSTOM. (de Laz. Conc. 3.) For God punishes some sinners by cutting off their iniquities, and appointing to them hereafter a lighter punishment, or perhaps even entirely releasing them, and correcting those who are living in wickedness by their punishment. Again, he does not punish others, that if they take heed to themselves by repentance they may escape both the present penalty and future punishment, but if they continue in their sins, suffer still greater torment.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. And He here plainly shews, that whatever judgments are passed for the punishment of the guilty, happen not only by the authority of the judges, but the will of God. Whether therefore the judge punishes upon the strict grounds of conscience, or has some other object in his condemnation, we must ascribe the work to the Divine appointment.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. To save therefore the multitudes, from the intestine seditions, which were excited for the sake of religion, He adds, but unless ye repent, and unless ye cease to conspire against your rulers, for which ye have no divine guidance, ye shall all likewise perish, and your blood shall be united to that of your sacrifices.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ubi sup.) And herein he shews that He permitted them to suffer such things, that the heirs of the kingdom yet living might be dismayed by the dangers of others. “What then,” you will say, “is this man punished, that I might become better?” Nay, but he is punished for his own crimes, and hence arises an opportunity of salvation to those who see it.
BEDE. But because they repented not in the fortieth year of our Lord’s Passion, the Romans coming, (whom Pilate represented, as belonging to their nation,) and beginning from Galilee, (whence our Lord’s preaching had begun,) utterly destroyed that wicked nation, and defiled with human blood not only the courts of the temples, where they were wont to offer sacrifies, but also the inner parts of the doors, (where there was no entrance to the Galileans.)
CHRYSOSTOM. (ubi sup.) Again, there had been eighteen others crushed to death by the falling of a tower, of whom He adds the same things, as it follows, Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay, For he does not punish all in this life, giving them a time meet for repentance. Nor however does he reserve all for future punishment, lest men should deny His providence.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. Now one tower is compared to the whole city, that the destruction of a part may alarm the whole. Hence it is added, But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish; as if He said, The whole city shall shortly be smitten if the inhabitants continue in impenitence.
AMBROSE. In those whose blood Pilate mingled with the sacrifices, there seems to be a certain mystical type, which concerns all who by the compulsion of the Devil offer not a pure sacrifice, whose prayer is for a sin, (Ps. 109:7.) as it was written of Judas, who when he was amongst the sacrifices devised the betrayal of our Lord’s blood.
BEDE. For Pilate, who is interpreted, “The mouth of the hammerer,” signifies the devil ever ready to strike. The blood expresses sin, the sacrifices good actions. Pilate then mingles the blood of the Galilæans with their sacrifices when the devil stains the alms and other good works of the faithful either by carnal indulgence, or by courting the praise of men, or any other defilement. Those men of Jerusalem also who were crushed by the falling of the tower, signify that the Jews who refuse to repent will perish within their own walls. Nor without meaning is the number eighteen given, (which number among the Greeks is made up of Ι and Η, that is, of the same letters with which the name of Jesus begins.) And it signifies that the Jews were chiefly to perish, because they would not receive the name of the Saviour. That tower represents Him who is the tower of strength. And this is rightly in Siloam, which is interpreted, “sent;” for it signifies Him who, sent by the Father, came into the world, and who shall grind to powder all on whom He falls.
SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.
6. He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none; cut it down: why cumbereth it the ground?
8. And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9. And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. The Jews were boasting, that while the eighteen had perished, they all remained unhurt. He therefore sets before them the parable of the fig tree, for it follows, He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.
AMBROSE. There was a vineyard of the Lord of hosts, which He gave for a spoil to the Gentiles. And the comparison of the fig tree to the synagogue is well chosen, because as that tree abounds with wide and spreading foliage, and deceives the hopes of its possessor with the vain expectation of promised fruit, so also in the synagogue, while its teachers are unfruitful in good works, yet magnify themselves with words as with abundant leaves, the empty shadow of the law stretches far and wide. This tree also is the only one which puts forth fruit in place of flowers. And the fruit falls, that other fruit may succeed; yet some few of the former remain, and do not fall. For the first people of the synagogue fell off as a useless fruit, in order that out of the fruitfulness of the old religion might arise the new people of the Church; yet they who were the first out of Israel whom a branch of a stronger nature bore, under the shadow of the law and the cross, in the bosom of both, stained with a double juice after the example of a ripening fig, surpassed all others in the grace of most excellent fruits; to whom it is said, You shall sit upon twelve thrones. Some however think the fig tree to be a figure not of the synagogue, but of wickedness and treachery; yet these differ in nothing from what has gone before, except that they choose the genus instead of the species.
BEDE. The Lord Himself who established the synagogue by Moses, came born in the flesh, and frequently teaching in the synagogue, sought for the fruits of faith, but in the hearts of the Pharisees found none; therefore it follows, And came seeking fruit on it, and found none.
AMBROSE. But our Lord sought, not because He was ignorant that the fig tree had no fruit, but that He might shew in a figure that the synagogue ought by this time to have fruit. Lastly, from what follows, He teaches that He Himself came not before the time who came after three years. For so it is said, Then said he to the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none. He came to Abraham, He came to Moses, He came to Mary, that is, He came in the seal of the covenant, He came in the law, He came in the body. We recognise His coming by His gifts; at one time purification, at another sanctification, at another justification. Circumcision purified, the law sanctified, grace justified. The Jewish people then could not be purified because they had not the circumcision of the heart, but of the body; nor be sanctified, because ignorant of the meaning of the law, they followed carnal things rather than spiritual; nor justified, because not working repentance for their offences, they knew nothing of grace. Rightly then was there no fruit found in the synagogue, and consequently it is ordered to be cut down; for it follows, Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground? But the merciful dresser, perhaps meaning him on whom the Church is founded, foreseeing that another would be sent to the Gentiles, but he himself to them who were of the circumcision, piously intercedes that it may not be cut off; trusting to his calling, that the Jewish people also might be saved through the Church. Hence it follows, And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also. He soon perceived hardness of heart and pride to be the causes of the barrenness of the Jews. He knew therefore how to discipline, who knew how to censure faults. Therefore adds He, till I shall dig about it. He promises that the hardness of their hearts shall be dug about by the Apostles’ spades, lest a heap of earth cover up and obscure the root of wisdom. And He adds, and dung it, that is, by the grace of humility, by which even the fig is thought to become fruitful toward the Gospel of Christ. Hence He adds, And if it bear fruit, well, that is, it shall be well, but if not, then after that thou shall cut it down.
BEDE. Which indeed came to pass under the Romans, by whom the Jewish nation was cut off, and thrust out from the land of promise.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) Or, in another sense, the fig tree is the race of mankind. For the first man after he had sinned concealed with fig leaves his nakedness, that is, the members from which we derive our birth.
THEOPHYLACT. But each one of us also is a fig tree planted in the vineyard of God, that is, in the Church, or in the world.
GREGORY. (Hom. 31. in Evang.) But our Lord came three times to the fig tree, because He sought after man’s nature before the law, under the law, and under grace, by waiting, admonishing, visiting; but yet He complains that for three years he found no fruit, for there are some wicked men whose hearts are neither corrected by the law of nature breathed into them, nor instructed by precepts, nor converted by the miracles of His incarnation.
THEOPHYLACT. Our nature yields no fruit though three times sought for; once indeed when we transgressed the commandment in paradise; the second time, when they made the molten calf under the law; thirdly, when they rejected the Saviour. But that three years’ time must be understood to mean also the three ages of life, boyhood, manhood, and old age.
GREGORY. (ubi. sup.) But with great fear and trembling should we hear the word which follows, Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground. For every one according to his measure, in whatsoever station of life he is, except he shew forth the fruits of good works, like an unfruitful tree, cumbereth the ground; for wherever he is himself placed, he there denies to another the opportunity of working.
PSEUDO-BASIL. (De Pœnit.) For it is the part of God’s mercy not silently to inflict punishment, but to send forth threatenings to recall the sinner to repentance, as He did to the men of Nineveh, and now to the dresser of the vineyard, saying, Cut it down, exciting him indeed to the care of it, and stirring up the barren soil to bring forth the proper fruits.
GREGORY NAZIANZEN. (Orat. 32.) Let us not then strike suddenly, but overcome by gentleness, lest we cut down the fig tree still able to bear fruit, which the care perhaps of a skilful dresser will restore. Hence it is also here added, And he answering said unto him, Lord, let alone, &c.
GREGORY. (31. in Ev.) By the dresser of the vineyard is represented the order of Bishops, who, by ruling over the Church, take care of our Lord’s vineyard.
THEOPHYLACT. Or the master of the household is God the Father, the dresser is Christ, who will not have the fig tree cut down as barren, as if saying to the Father, Although through the Law and the Prophets they gave no fruit of repentance, I will water them with My sufferings and teaching, and perhaps they will yield us fruits of obedience.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) Or, the husbandman who intercedes is every holy man who within the Church prays for them that are without the Church, saying, O Lord, O Lord, let it alone this year, that is, for that time vouchsafed under grace, until I dig about it. To dig about it, is to teach humility and patience, for the ground which has been dug is lowly. The dung signifies the soiled garments, but they bring forth fruit. The soiled garment of the dresser, is the grief and mourning of sinners; for they who do penance and do it truly are in soiled garments.
GREGORY. (ubi sup.) Or, the sins of the flesh are called the dung. From this then the tree revives to bear fruit again, for from the remembrance of sin the soul quickens itself to good works. But there are very many who hear reproof, and yet despise the return to repentance; wherefore it is added, And if it bear fruit, well.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) That is, it will be well, but if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down; namely, when Thou shalt come to judge the quick and the dead. In the mean time it is now spared.
GREGORY. (ubi sup.) But he who will not by correction grow rich unto fruitfulness, falls to that place from whence he is no more able to rise again by repentance.
SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.
Hearers of the Word
KIERAN 0’MAHONY, OSA – Augustinian friar and biblical scholar, currently assisting in Donnybrook parish (Dublin). He provides notes and commentaries in four formats: 1. PDF — the full notes, including weekday introductions, 5 pages. 2. The gospel notes only in audio format. 3. The gospel notes presented in a portable format suitable for smartphones and tablets. 4. YouTube video: A further exploration of the Gospel (usually) from a different angle.
Mass Readings Explained
The Word Exposed
CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE – The Word Exposed with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples reflects on Sunday’s Mass readings each week. From the Vatican, produced by Jesuit Communications.
The Word in the World
FR. ARUN PAUL is pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples, Florida.
A Walk in the Word
Centre for Christian Spirituality
The Word Proclaimed Institute
FR. FRANCIS MARTIN – Fr. Francis Martin +August 11, 2017, taught at the Gregorian University in Rome, the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Franciscan University of Steubenville), and the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.