At that very 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.'”
This very day, quite likely before you read these words, you will have heard word of terrible events near and far – of war and bloodshed, of refugee children making their way through the winter of Europe, of gunfire taking the lives of innocents somewhere in our nation or another, of misunderstandings and refusal to listen to one another leading toward more of the same.
So it was, on its own scale, in the Israel of Jesus’ day as he walked among the people. Long before 24-hour news stations bad news traveled faster than good, and so people come to Jesus to share news about the cruelty of the Roman Governor toward people of Jesus’ own province. Jesus acknowledges this had occurred and then added bad news he himself had heard, of the collapse of a tower that took the live of 18 people at Siloam.
We might be likely, on hearing similar news in our day, to speak of the apparently random suffering of the innocent. While Jesus neither says nor implies that those who had suffered at Pilate’s hands or in the tower collapse were any more guilty than anyone else, he does indicate that news like this is a reminder to the living, to all of us, to repent. That is, to make change in life. Or even deeper, to allow our mind to be renewed. To allow the mind in us to be the mind that is in Christ (Philippians 2).
I say allow because the God-given gift, the grace to change in this way, to repent, to be made new, is always available. It is as much in the air as the light of this morning. The fig tree in the parable is not far away. To see its roots, we need only look to the things we are rooted in, what is most central to us, to the ways in which we spend our time and energy. Is there good fruit coming from the ‘tree’ planted in God’s garden that is I?
Since something falls everyday, and there will always be authorities misusing their power, I had better be attentive today.
~ JP McGinty