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

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A Call to Repentance and the Parable of the
Barren Fig Tree

Homilies | Luke 13:1-9

In Brief

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:

  1. Human tragedy caused by evil people; and,
  2. Natural tragedy caused by accidents or natural events. 
  3. Greatest tragedy of eternal separation from God in hell 

Human Tragedy (v 1-2)

1Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled…  


1 the Galileans.  Ac. 5:37. mingled. La. 2:20. Eze. 9:5–7. 1 Pe. 4:17, 18.

2 Suppose. ver. 4. Job 22:5–16. Jno. 9:2. Ac. 28:4.


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.

Shocking News

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!


POPE FRANCIS: “In Ukraine, rivers of blood and tears are flowing… in a war which sows death, destruction and misery.”

On 24 February 2022, Russia began an invasion of Ukraine. Now, weeks later, the terror and catastrophe has seemingly no end in sight.  The scale and proximity of this tragedy will be on everyone’s minds when people hear Luke 13:1-9 read at Mass

WORKING PREACHER –  Jesus does not explain the causes of violence that nature and human beings regularly inflict upon unsuspecting people. He does not blame victims. He does not attempt to defend creation or the Creator when “why?” questions seem warranted…

He asks, with an urgency fueled by raw memories of blood and rubble on the ground:  What about you?  How will you live the life you get to live?

A sermon that remains true to the movement of this biblical text, however, will focus primarily on the fact that tragedies arrest our attention. They shake us out of the complacencies or stupor that we use to get through ordinary life. They impress upon us, better than any preacher’s words, the perils of our existence. But tragedies also lead many of us who observe such events at a distance–through word of mouth or round-the-clock newsfeeds–to protect ourselves with rationalizations and false assurances.

Natural Tragedy (v 4)

2Eighteen people killed when the tower at Siloam fell


4 in Siloam. Ne. 3:15. Jno. 9:7, 11. fell. 1 Ki. 20:30. Job 1:19. sinners. or, debtors. ch. 7:41, 42; 11:4. Mat. 6:12; 18:24.


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.


Many Tragedies are Caused by Human Sin

PULPITFICTION.COM – Many, though not all, tragedies are caused by human sin, although not necessarily (or arguably, not usually) the sins of the victim. Human sin leads to the killing of innocents, to natural disasters caused by climate change, to inequitable distribution of resources leading to unsafe school, and residential structures. If we simply explain tragedy away as a result of the victim’s sin, then none of the larger sins (which we may be complicit in) can be addressed. In other words – if we unfaithfully dismiss the murders of George Floyd (“he used counterfeit money”) or Eric Gardner (“he was illegally selling loose cigarettes”), then we ignore the real causes of these tragedies (white supremacy, police brutality without accountability, and systemic racism) which too many of us in our words and actions or silence and inaction perpetuate.

Greatest Tragedy (v 3,5)

3If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!


3 except. ver. 5; ch. 24:47. Mat. 3:2, 10–12. Ac. 2:38–40; 3:19. Re. 2:21, 22. ye shall. ch. 19:42–44; 21:22–24; 23:28–30. Mat. 12:45; 22:7; 23:35–38; 24:21–29.

5 except. ver. 3. Is. 28:10–13. Eze. 18:30.


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.



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.


SOURCE: James Wetzstein, Lutheran pastor.


When Tragedy Strikes: “What If It Had Been Me?”

BIBLE.ORG  – When tragedy hits someone else, whether it is a tragedy caused by evil people or one caused by some natural disaster, we all talk about it. We’re glued to the TV set, watching the details over and over as they are reported. But, when it’s over, most people go on unchanged, with no thought of how it applies to them. Jesus here shows that we should immediately take it to heart by asking, “What if it had been me? Would I have been ready to stand before God? Have I truly repented of my sins? Is my life pleasing to the Lord?” Because the fact is, sooner or later, it will be me!

The Greatest Tragedy

FR. MICHAEL CHUA – The greatest tragedy is not suffering, nor pain, nor disappointment, nor even death. The greatest tragedy is to abuse the time given to us to change the direction of our lives, to realign our lives with the will of God. The greatest tragedy man can suffer is to continue living our lives without giving a thought to God.

Fig Tree in orchard (v 6)

A person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard


6 fig-tree. Ps. 80:8–13. Is. 5:1–4. Je. 2:21. Mat. 21:19, 20. Mar. 11:12–14. and he came. ch. 20:10–14. Mat. 21:34–40. Jno. 15:16. Ga. 5:22. Phi. 4:17.


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
The gardener Jesus

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)
  • The fig tree is the only fruit-bearing tree named in Eden (Gen 3:7). The fruitful fig tree was a sign of the good things God promised the covenant people in the Promised Land (Dt 8:8).
  • Proverbs 27:18 advises that God will bless the person who produces good “fruit” in his life: He who tends a fig tree eats its fruit, and he who is attentive to his master will be enriched. 
  • The prophet Jeremiah compared an Israel under the curse of divine judgment to a fruitless fig tree: I shall put an end to them, Yahweh declares, no more grapes on the vine, no more figs on the fig tree only withered leaves (Jer 8:13 NJB).

The charts on the symbolic images of the prophets.

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.” 


7 three. Le. 19:23; 25:21. Ro. 2:4, 5. cut. ch. 3:9. Ex. 32:10. Da. 4:14. Mat. 3:10; 7:19. Jno. 15:2, 6. why. Ex. 32:10. Mat. 3:9.


Three Years

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”


AGAPE BIBLE STUDY –   The Old Covenant was literally “cut down” and ended forty years after Jesus’s Ascension in AD 70 when the Jews revolted against Rome, and the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. From that time forward,

  • the Jews couldn’t observe the commands and ordinances of the Sinai Covenant for liturgical sacrifices and worship without a Temple.
  • Only the New Covenant universal Church continued to offer priests, altars, sacrifice, incense, and the thanksgiving meal of communion in the sacred meal of the Eucharist that unites the people of God across the face of the earth.

WILLIAM BARCLAY –  The parable teaches that uselessness invites disaster. It has been claimed that the whole process of evolution in this world is to produce useful things, and that what is useful will go on from strength to strength, while what is useless will be eliminated. The most searching question we can be asked is: ‘Of what use were you in this world?’


Are We Bearing the Good Fruit of Repentance?

AGAPE BIBLE STUDY  – In His last homily during the Last Supper, Jesus spoke symbolically again about fruitful branches when He said:

I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me (Jn 15:1-4).

During our forty-day Lenten journey, are we submitting the “roots” and “branches” of our lives to the efforts of the Divine Gardener who wants to “prune” the unfruitful works to strengthen us in our spiritual growth to bear the good fruit that leads to eternal life.

Living Our Life based only on Routine

FR GEORGE SMIGA – When we live our life based only on routine, when we give ourselves over to auto-pilot, we can be doing many things. But there is no guarantee that we are doing what is best. Much like the fig tree, we can be putting out leaves, we can be putting down roots, but we could be missing the thing for which we were made. Living a life of routine is non-reflective, because we never stop and ask ourselves the question, “What really counts?” We never stop to ask, “Is there something that I need to do? And do I need to do it today?”


The Holy Spirit is Like the Sap of the Father’s Vine

1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father’s vine which bears fruit on its branches (Cf. Jn 15:1-17; Gal 5:22).  The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. 


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.

  • If you are alienated from somebody, be reconciled.
  • If you are self-righteous in relation to others, humble yourself and start seeing the goodness in them.
  • If you have been uncaring toward the poor, now is the time to get some moral imagination and put yourself in the plight of another human being. Don’t just ‘pity’ the poor, show true compassion by reaching out to them.
  • If you have been callous about prospects for peace in the world, now is the time for you to start praying and begin working for those things in your own family or neighborhood that make for peace. Stop giving hell to your husband or wife or children or parents. Start being peacemakers.
  • If you have put your trust in the accumulation of things so that you are slave to a whole host of masters, now is the time for you to unload some of the stuff and to put your trust in God. Don’t just throw away your stuff, give it to others, to the poor. Make sure it’s not a shirt with holes in it or a trousers with a zip missing.
  • And if you assumed to this point that you are going to be judged on your ability to avoid evil in this life, this is the time for you to hear that you are going to be judged on your courage to do the good.

Repentance is not some negative, life-denying gesture. In fact, repentance doesn’t mean turning to a past way of thinking or doing at all. Repentance means turning to a new way. Repentance does not mean to change from what we are to what we were. It means to change from what we are to what we are going to be.

SOURCE: Mark Trotter, You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet – Cylce B” C.S.S. Publishing, 1990); appeared on the website of Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR (Third Order Franciscans):  APPLE SEEDS (One of the outreach programs of Franciscan University)

Fertilizer (v 8)

“Cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it” 


8 Lord, let. Ex. 32:11–13, 30–32; 34:9. Nu. 14:11–20. Jos. 7:7–9. Ps. 106:23. Je. 14:7–9, 13, etc.; 15:1; 18:20. Joel 2:17. Ro. 10:1; 11:14. 2 Pe. 3:9.

9 if not. Ezr. 9:14, 15. Ps. 69:22–28. Da. 9:5–8. Jno. 15:2. 1 Th. 2:15. He. 6:8. Re. 15:3, 4; 16:5–7


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.


Repeating the Same Sins Over and Over Again

LPI CONNECT – In recent months I’ve been plagued by an aversion to Confession — a restless self-consciousness that kept me away for longer than it should have. A voice was whispering: Why go in that little room and kneel down and say all the same things, over and over and over again, when you know you’re not strong enough to stop doing the very things you keep confessing?… [When] I shared this with the priest the last time I went to Confession….he patiently explained to me that the sacrament is working exactly as it was designed, again and again and again. Because it brings me, kneeling, before the mercy of God — again and again and again. It is reminding me that I am not better than these temptations. I am not better than these failures. I am not better than these weaknesses. I am the fruitless fig tree, slated for the ax. I exhaust the soil of the orchard. But still there is a Gardener who has not given up, who looks at me and says: “Wait — I’m not done with that one yet.”

Fruit Takes Time to Develop and Mature

SACRED SPACE  – These days many want instant results, immediate gratification, as if knowledge or information can provide answers to all the questions of life. Trees grow slowly, fruit takes time to develop and mature. The same is true for ourselves. Lord, you are the gardener, who cultivate and nourish us… The God of Jesus never lets go on us, and always believes in our future. All of us carry particular faults and failings through life, and even though we try our best, find that they stay with us. God knows this and sees our efforts to change and be renewed. Prayer helps us to believe in ourselves as God believes in us.

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.).

Pilate Kills the Galileans on Herod’s Birthday

EPHREM THE SYRIAN: They came and informed Jesus concerning the men from Galilee, whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices, on the festival of Herod’s birthday, when he cut off John’s head. Since Herod had illegally killed John, Pilate sent and killed those who were present at the feast. Since he was not able to injure Herod, he destroyed his accomplice to his shame, and he left him in anger until the day of the Lord’s judgment. The two were reconciled through the pretext of the Lord. Pilate mixed their blood with their sacrifices, because the Roman authorities forbid them to offer sacrifice. Pilate found them transgressing the law and offering sacrifices, and he destroyed them at that same place and time. COMMENTARY ON TATIAN’S DIATESSARON 14.25.

SOURCE: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Luke), Edited by Thomas C. Oden, InterVarsity Press ©2005, Used with permission.

LUKE 13:1-5

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.

The Lord’s Three Visits Through the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Gospels

AUGUSTINE: The Lord also has something very fitting to say about a fruitless tree, “Look, it is now three years that I have been coming to it. Finding no fruit on it, I will cut it down, to stop it blocking up my field.” The gardener intercedes.…

This tree is the human race. The Lord visited this tree in the time of the patriarchs, as if for the first year. He visited it in the time of the law and the prophets, as if for the second year. Here we are now; with the gospel the third year has dawned. Now it is as though it should have been cut down, but the merciful one intercedes with the merciful one. He wanted to show how merciful he was, and so he stood up to himself with a plea for mercy. “Let us leave it,” he says, “this year too. Let us dig a ditch around it.” Manure is a sign of humility. “Let us apply a load of manure; perhaps it may bear fruit.”

Since it does bear fruit in one part, and in another part does not bear fruit, its Lord will come and divide it. What does that mean, “divide it”? There are good people and bad people now in one company, as though constituting one body. SERMON 254.3.

SOURCE: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Luke), Edited Thomas C. Oden, InterVarsity Press ©2005, Used with permission.

LUKE 13:6-9

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.

Brooklyn Museum – The Vine Dresser and the Fig Tree – James Tissot

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

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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

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DR BRANT PITREFull Length (1) 52-week video Bible Study on the weekly Mass readings; (2) audio-only version; (3) transcript; (4) study guide.  For more information, click here.

The Word Exposed

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CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLEThe 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

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FR. ARUN PAUL is pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples, Florida.

A Walk in the Word

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HECTOR MOLINA – This weekly series will be devoted to exploring and mining the riches of the Sunday Mass readings. Learn more about him here.

Centre for Christian Spirituality

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LECTIO REFLECTION – Prayerful reflection on The Sunday Gospel readings with Australian Catholic Bishop David Louis Walker, Fr John Frauenfelder and Virginia Ryan.

The Word Proclaimed Institute

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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.