The Gospel of the Day – 2016.02.28 (Sunday)
The Parable of the Fig Tree
Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’
He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’ (NJB)
The Church and Power
The gospel of the day is a plain spoken text. It acknowledges the overwhelming reality of suffering in the world. Suffering caused by human beings, suffering caused by the random nature of events in the world; the Roman prelate, Pilate, caused suffering among the people of Palestine, either directly, at his hands for political and religious purposes (which to the Romans were one and the same), or indirectly, because they were forced into servitude.
The message the Jesus has for his people is that they be careful, mindful, watchful of those powers, and of one another unless they two are caught up in the aegis of Pilates authority and subjected to the whims of cruelty. The people who suffered and died under Pilate did not suffer and die because they deserved it more than any others, they were not more guilty of crimes than he, or his followers, but they were careless, and due to their carelessness they were caught up in the grip of Roman power.
Jesus stresses in the parable the power of intention. The farmer is the Roman State, he has the power of life and death over the people, if the people do not fulfill his expectations, he will destroy them.
The man looking after the vineyard is the Church. The Church pleads for mercy on behalf of the people, and through mindfulness, and care; the people are brought along safely into the next year, preserving themselves and their families in the face of the violent Roman State.
It is a tenuous arrangement, but a necessary political arrangement if the people who make up the church are going to survive in a time of persecution.
2nd Sunday of Lent