Wed, March 16, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

3rd Sunday of Lent

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

Parable from the Barren Fig Tree, by Abel Grimmer, in the Museum Plantin-Moretus.

Bible passages


Luke 13:1-9

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! 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!"  And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. (So) cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?' He said to him in reply, '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.'"

Biblical Homilies


“At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’” (Verses 1-3)

Some people come to Jesus and tell about the terrible deed of Pilate, who had these Galileans killed at the sacrifice. In the Greek text it says more precisely: they came extra - in the previous text, Jesus speaks of the coming judgment. And now these people burst in with their experience: these Galileans have been killed.

Jesus takes only these three of the twelve with him. They were also witnesses at the raising of the daughter of Jaïrus and they will also be witnesses of his death suffering. They will be with him at the Mount of Olives. That is why he wants to strengthen them. The transfiguration indicates that the way is through suffering into his glory - the way of Jesus and the way of the one who follows him, because he has invited to follow him there.

Jesus, who knows very well the connection between sin and punishment, between suffering and death as consequences of sin, denies here that every suffering is a retribution for personal wrongdoing: If I experience suffering, then this is not automatically a consequence of sin; or if someone becomes seriously ill, then he does not automatically deserve this himself because he has sinned. This is immediately obvious. Because if that were the case, we would all have to be sick or even have already died. Of course, we all sin again and again. But I cannot conclude the other way around: if someone suffers, it is because he has sinned. So Jesus here contradicts the erroneous assumption of his listeners that those slain by Pilate must have been greater sinners than the other Galileans. Rather, he exhorts us to look at our own inner selves, our own hearts, and not to condemn the others in their misfortune: These Galileans who were killed are no greater sinners than those who have now come to Jesus to tell him about it.

Thus, such events should always lead us to ourselves. When we hear of catastrophes, of people perishing or suffering terribly, we should always look within ourselves and remember: through our sins we have contributed to all the suffering of the world. Such events are always a call to our own conversion. This is what Jesus wants to say. We should see the misfortune of others, as it were, as a mirror for all other people, including ourselves. In this way, Jesus lets his listeners see that all of Galilee, in its impenitence, is on the way to judgment, not just those who have perished. Our whole village, our whole city is on the way to judgment in its impenitence. He says this to us today also!

“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!” (Verses 4-5)

Jesus then mentions the collapse of the tower of Shiloah, which had already taken place earlier, and makes it clear once again: If you do not convert - and it is said in Greek: if you deliberately do not convert - you will fall victim to the judgment of God. These are already very hard and very clear words against the indifference and indecisiveness of people. And when we hear these words, there is no excuse for us anymore.

Jesus demands that we, today, do not judge self-righteously those affected by such reports of disaster, but that we look into ourselves as if with a mirror and recognize: I am partly to blame. My guilt, my impenitence is partly to blame. Through this we should really let ourselves be led to repentance. And we have the opportunity to do this every day. Every day we hear about mischief in the world and in it we also hear the Lord's call to repentance. We should turn to God and not to earthly idols.

“And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. (So) cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?'” (Verses 6-7)

To make the exhortation to conversion quite forceful, Jesus then tells this following parable of the fig tree. It is clear that the owner of the vineyard stands for God, but the vineyard owner stands for Jesus. Here, the relationship of God is described, both to Israel and to the new people of God, us Christians: The fig tree in the vineyard is something unique and special, just as Israel was privileged by special election and became the chosen people of God. And so also as the New Testament people of God, we Christians, are chosen by God and planted as a fig tree in his vineyard. We too are especially favored for the sake of the salvation of others.

The three years of barrenness correspond to the whole past of Israel. God has been mourning over the stubbornness of Israel for centuries, as we hear again and again in the Old Testament. And he wants to hand this people over to the judgment: "Knock him down! Why should he continue to take his strength from the ground?" It was all in vain, useless. Cut him down!

These are harsh words of Jesus about the chosen people of Israel. At the same time, they are also words that he addresses to us today! What is the situation throughout the history of the Church? How do we relate to these words? Are we really bearing fruit, fruits of peace? Or does Jesus also have to say about us today:

"Knock him down! He's just sucking the soil dry."

But why doesn't the vineyard owner just leave the fig tree? There are two reasons: First, the barren fig tree is useless, just like a Christian that bears no fruit. Second, it sucks out the good vineyard soil that others would actually need in order to bear fruit. So Israel is doubly doomed, and so are we Christians: it is not worthy to be the people of God, and neither are we. We take advantage of the blessings of the chosen people without bearing fruit. The other peoples, who would actually receive Christ with joy, lack the power from the soil, which we waste uselessly, because we do not bear fruit!

“He said to him in reply, '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.'" (Verses 8-9)

The gardener, that is Jesus, answers as it were with an intercession to the Father - that is the act of his redemption! - namely: Let it stand for another year. We should take this word quite seriously, quite literally, and let ourselves be struck by it: I still have one year!

The gardener once again uses the most extreme means. He digs up everything around the tree and fertilizes. This is the fullness, the grace of salvation that Jesus earned for us through his suffering and his blood! In order to save us, he has used all means so that we may bear fruit after all. But if we do not want to, then all his redemptive act is of no use. We receive sacraments, which actually remain fruitless, because we do not accept them properly! The fruit would be the awakening of the people from their forgetfulness of God to conversion, to God!

The parable then turns into a threat, so to speak: If the tree still does not bear fruit after a year, "then let it be cut down." This is a very concrete threat and there it becomes clear what some people like to deny: The Gospel of Jesus is not only a message of joy, it is also a message of threat, but a threat that calls us to turn back, so that we can really seek God and find him. ∎