Only leaves – 3rd Sunday of Lente – Lk 13:1-9
Luke is the only source we have who mentions the two incidents that are spoken of in today’s Gospel. These incidents are mentioned only in the Bible and are not found in secular sources. It is possible that these two tragedies which struck Jerusalem at around the same time were perhaps very local to Jerusalem and hence never found mention in secular sources.
When tragedies take place, humanity seeks to attribute a cause or find an explanation to it and those present with Jesus were no different. So, was this bad karma or was such a tragedy reflective of a sinful life? The mind-set of the crowd seems to be reflective of the question that often plagues our minds; do bad things happen to bad people?
The two incidents mentioned in this pericope may or may not have happened but they are most certainly plausible. We know that Pilate was ruthless and it was not beyond him to have some Galileans slaughtered in the temple while they were making an offering. We also know for a fact that on another occasion when the Jews protested against the use of temple funds to build the aqua duct, Pilate had his soldiers mingle in the crowds and at a predetermined signal, had the crowd slaughtered.
For that matter the pool of Siloam which was built during the reign of King Hezekiah (715–687/6 BCE) to provide water inside the city in case of a siege could have been undergoing an expansion to accommodate a tower. Perhaps it was the same tower that crashed on eighteen Galileans working on it. Interestingly, both narratives mention Galileans as the victims of these unfortunate incidents. It was no secret that the Jews of Jerusalem looked down on their brothers who lived in the north for they accused them of infidelity to Israelite laws while in exile. Their contempt finds mention even in the Gospel when they are referred to as ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matthew 4:15)
It is perhaps this accusation of ‘religious infidelity’ that is attributed as the consequence of these two incidents on the Galileans. God it seemed was now exacting vengeance. This however was not the mind of Jesus. What is uppermost in the mind of Jesus is that everyone is called to repentance and there is urgency in that call, lest we meet with a similar destructive. This destructive end which is preached by Jesus is unfortunately not preached today for it often makes complacent congregations uncomfortable.
Hinged to this urgent call to repentance is also the call to bear fruit. The Christian life is not merely one that avoids doing evil it must also seek to do good. Having repented of ones sins, one must work actively to produce fruit or else one simply becomes a fig tree with no fruit but only leaves. While a fig tree may have beautiful and healthy leaves that is not its primary purpose. Yet Jesus has compassion and overlooks the leaves of our life hoping we will produce fruit the next year; albeit with a specific extension period.
Question yourself if you only bear leaves.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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