Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
The parable of the fig tree offers us an interesting point with regard to Divine justice. The fig tree is barren and unproductive. The owner represents a fairly typical social response to members of society that seem unproductive and worthless. From his perspective the barren fig tree should be cut down, "why should it exhaust the soil." I think this phrase is very interesting itself. Consider the argument used for the poor and low-income communities in our society. Generalities are thrown out there that deem this population as being unproductive and with no visible social worth. Arguments based on these generalities are used against social programs for these communities: "Why should they continue being a drain on our society?"
But Jesus plays the role of the pastoral gardener. His role in this parable is similar to performing social analysis and nurturing the environment that up to this point is keeping the tree barren. The gardener is nothing less than a community organizer whose organization is the Kingdom of God. Jesus the gardener recognizes the negative environmental influences that have contributed to the barren quality of the fig tree. He addresses that limited environment in order to give the tree every opportunity to blossom into a productive member of the Kingdom of God. The element of personal responsibility is not lost on the image of the fig tree however since the gardener accepts that if under these changed environmental circumstances the fig tree still remains barren then it must accept the consequence of its inaction. The point of the parable is that the justice of Christ will accept this judgment once the negative environmental elements are addressed.
It is important to notice the issues that gave rise to this parable. Certain Galileans were judged to be great sinners because of the forms of natural (the collapse of the tower) and social (Pilate’s atrocity) suffering they endured. Jesus points out very clearly that God’s justice is not reflected in the way people suffer. Jesus also emphasizes twice that the inactive judgment by those who witness such suffering will lead them to a similar fate. We have recently witnessed a number of natural disasters in Haiti and Chile and social atrocities in Palestine and Somalia. Our role in following the good gardener is not to judge and dismiss the people who suffer but to analyze and address the negative social and environmental situations so that all people can have every opportunity to be productive members of a society that is based on the common good.
The first two readings emphasize this point even further. In the first reading God reveals his justice to Moses who will be His appointed agent for the liberation of the oppressed Hebrews. But in Corinthians we hear Paul offer us a symbolic interpretation of this historical liberation moment. Paul is warning the early Christians that they are living in the midst of this liberation moment. We, like the early Christians, are also living in the moment of liberation. We are called to liberate the world from social injustice and heal our society from natural disasters as part of our role of being gardeners for the Kingdom of God. Paul tells all of us who accept the responsibility of following Christ that we cannot accept a false sense of spiritual or social security that leads us away from the moral responsibilities we owe God and each other. Our Christian witness to the social and natural suffering in our days is not to stand by and cast judgments but to engage in solidarity with all who suffer and to cultivate the social and environmental landscape so that all our suffering brothers and sisters may have the opportunity to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
John Gonzalez is the director of the North American Passionist office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. http://www.passionistjpic.org/