Bishop Glen John Provost

Bishop of Lake Charles

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Lake Charles, Louisiana

February 28, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent

“[I]t may bear fruit in the future.  If not you can cut it down.”  Luke 13:9

The conversation in the Gospel today brings up an interesting question of the connection between sin and its consequences.  The people ask Jesus “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices” (Luke 13:2).  Or what about “those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them” (Luke 13:4)?  Were these people greater sinners than anyone else in Galilee or Jerusalem? Jesus answers that they were not but “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:3).  

I think it is safe to conclude that Jesus does not want us to judge when misfortune happens to someone else.  Nonetheless, when it comes to sin, we need to look at ourselves, at our own lives, and repent. 

Then, Jesus gives us the parable of the barren fig tree.  The fig tree has remained barren for three years.  Why should it clutter up the garden?  Cut it down.  But the gardener pleads with the owner, “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” (Luke 13:8-9). Sin will be punished, but God is patient.

In this patience, God manifests His mercy.  However, we should not allow God’s patience to be an opportunity for us to exercise license.  The time of repentance is now, not later.
I came across recently an interesting quote from Blessed John Henry Newman (“Tolerance of Religious Error,” PPS, 2:23).  He writes:

        I fear it must be confessed, that our kindness, instead of
        being directed and braced by principle, too often becomes
        languid and unmeaning; that it is exerted on improper
        objects, and out of season, and thereby is uncharitable in two
        ways, indulging those who should be chastised, and
        preferring their comfort to those who are really deserving.
        We are over-tender in dealing with sin and sinners.  We are
        deficient in jealous custody of the revealed Truths which
        Christ has left us.

In other words, we make a serious mistake when our patient hope that a sinner repents becomes a license for him to continue in his error and all the while scandalize by making it appear that we are ignoring revealed truth.   

Instead, we should learn the lesson of the barren fig tree.  There is always hope, but let us do something about the tree’s barrenness.  Let us cultivate the ground and fertilize the tree.  Then, if no fruit is forthcoming, we will cut it down.  

Jesus never shied away from calling to repentance.  He showed generous mercy, a mercy that lies at the heart of God’s patience.  At the same time, he said, “[I]f you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:3).  That is the Gospel.