Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, "I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned."
When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses! Moses!" He answered, "Here I am." God said, "Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers," he continued, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the Lord said, "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey."
Moses said to God, "But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," if they ask me, "What is his name?" What am I to tell them?" God replied, "I am who am." Then he added, "This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you."
God spoke further to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, this is my title for all generations."(P) The word of the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. (R)
He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R)
The Lord secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. He has made known all his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel. (R)
Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him. (R)
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for "they were struck down in the desert."
These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.(P) The word of the Lord.
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, "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 all perish as they did! Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"
And he told them this parable: "There was once a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the 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?" The gardener said to him in reply, "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.""(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today's gospel begins with some people telling Jesus about a massacre committed by Pilate. We do not know much about this incident because there is no other historical reference to the event. But Biblical scholars say that the massacre refers to the uprising of Galilean Jews against imperial Rome and among the victims killed by Pilate's soldiers, were those who were offering sacrifices at the temple. As the people were recounting the cruelty of the incident, Jesus, as he always did, knew what was coming next. So he responded by asking them a question.
At the time of Jesus, the Jews believed that any suffering was from God as a punishment for sin. Now, the people informing Jesus of this event believed that these Galileans died in this terrible way because they were sinners. To correct their belief Jesus put to them a question, "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 all perish as they did."
Here Jesus did not deny the fact that the Galileans were sinners. At the same time, he denied that those who survived were sinless too. From God's perspective, the living and the dead are equally sinners. So he warned those who were on earth not to be self-assured but to repent for their sin, else they would perish the same way.
Jesus Himself then cited another incidence. He described the event of the fall of the Tower of Siloam that had killed eighteen people. He asked them whether the people killed were more sinful than the others who survived, and once again Jesus clearly noted that the incident was not some sort of divine punishment directed at the victims because of their sins. But Jesus called his listeners to repent lest they would suffer for their sins too.
Jesus then went on to tell the parable of the fig tree. A man had a fig tree. As the owner he had expected the fig tree to bear fruit. When he went to look for fruit on it, he did not find any. When he realized, even after three years, the tree was unfruitful despite the rich soil, he wanted to cut it down but his gardener persuaded him to give the tree one more year. This time the owner hoped that extra fertilization and more care from the gardener would transform the barren tree into a fruit-bearing tree. If no fruit was borne, then the tree would be cut down. So Jesus warned the people that such an end would happen to them as well if they did not bear fruit.
Jesus never condemned people for their sin. For example, you may recall the story of the woman caught in adultery. When she was brought before Him, He did not condemn her, but told her to go and sin no more. He also said to the people "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her... You judge by human standards; I judge no one", John (8:7, 15). Yes. Through parables and stories Jesus taught his listeners a moral or spiritual lesson.
In this parable the orchard is the world. The owner is God. Each tree in this orchard represents a Christian believer or a community. The gardener is of course Jesus - the owner's servant and son. A barren tree is a believer whose life has been unproductive despite knowing about Jesus and taking all the nutrients from Him but giving nothing back in return. Some expositors refer the three years the owner gave to the tree to bear fruit to the three years of Jesus' public ministry during which He called people to repent and believe in His gospel. Some scholars point to God's successive calls to Israel by the Law, the prophets and Christ. Some others say that the number three represents completeness - so a period of full opportunity is given to the tree to become fruitful and productive. In other words, God's purpose is to ensure that every tree in the orchard becomes fruitful.
We indeed ask the same questions today as the people of Jesus' time did. When we read or hear of murders, accidents, disasters and terminal illnesses, we are often inclined to search for causes, explanations, and are ready to point a finger. When we come across anything tragic, we usually become temporary philosophers and we ask profound questions, such as, why does God permit or cause such evil? What is happening to the world? What is the world coming to? Why do bad things happen to even good and faithful people? Why are innocent people being killed? and so on. However, strangely though when another event occurs, we forget about the previous one and move on to the next.
But Jesus teaches us to handle such events differently:
Even after hearing today's gospel warning, we still do not repent, then this sin of ours is the "greater sin" and we will be judged for rejecting the opportunities.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!