In the Gospel reading for today, we hear not only about God’s patience and mercy, but also a challenge to show mercy to others. I’ll start with the second part of our reading first. In this part of our reading, Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree which has produced no fruit. The owner of the land, says to his 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?” But the gardener replies, “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.”
This parable indicates to us God’s patience with us. But are we patient with each other? It seems that too many times in human history, people have rationalized oppressing and even killing others because they “exhaust the soil.” They are not seen as worthy of living. But if we can get in touch with just how merciful God has been with us, how can we not refrain from judgment and prejudice and instead show mercy and compassion towards others?
Reflecting on this helped me understand what Jesus is saying in the first part of our reading. In this part of our reading, people talk to Jesus about a group of Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Speaking about these people and similarly about some others who died when a tower in Siloam fell on them, Jesus says, “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 perish as they did!”
I don’t think Jesus means to say that God will be as callous and hard-hearted as Pilate was if we don’t repent. I do think that what He is saying is something like, “You think that because they suffered in this way that they must have been great sinners? Instead of speculating about their sinfulness, you need to pay attention to your own sinfulness and don’t waste time turning back to God. Otherwise, you will have no life.”
May we reflect God’s love and mercy in showing love and mercy to others.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.