As Jesus uses the term, conversion means both repentance concerning one’s past sins and a return to a serious and full relationship with God.
The two incidents Jesus speaks of are not well reported outside St. Luke’s Gospel. The first deals with the killing of some Galileans by soldiers of Pontius Pilate, while the second concerns a tower that fell in Siloam, killing 18 persons. In both cases, Jesus uses these facts to call His listeners to conversion.
The atmosphere of Our Lord’s time was highly politically-charged. Expectations were that the Messiah would soon appear and conquer the Roman occupation army, restoring Israel to first place among all the nations. Such messianic hopes were, almost naturally, set within a political context, and this is the interpretation that Jesus rejects. His words “You will all come to the same end unless you repent” seek to show His audience that deliverance from oppression, injustice and catastrophe come not so much through force of arms or human effort as through a genuine return to God, a truly religious change of heart and of life. It is this change that allows us to witness the salvation brought about by God’s intervention. On the other hand, Jesus clearly warns that disaster will result if we do not make a concerted effort to turn back to the Lord and show in our lives the results of His saving activity.
This is the idea that leads into the parable of the fig tree, a parable which forms the second part of this week’s gospel. For three years, the fig tree planted by the owner of the vineyard has not borne fruit. The owner decides to get rid of it; the implication is that some other tree could be planted in its place. The man looking after the property tries to delay the tragic outcome of the fig tree; he makes an extra effort to save it. The implication of the parable is that Jesus Himself is the “gardener,” He is the one who will go the extra mile and take the extra trouble to save His people in the hope that conditions will change.
Importantly, the parable does not say whether the fig tree was ever cut down. The emphasis lies on the future: the future behavior of the tree, not the past, will determine its fate. Thanks to Jesus, there is still time for the tree (and for us) to produce the fruit God expects us to produce. What St. Luke wants us to understand by this parable is that the ministry of Jesus appears as a true time of grace and renewal, as a time of loving interest on the part of God for His people. But this time is not without limit; there may well come a moment when the fig tree, through its own obstinacy, will be cut down and thus suffer the same fate as those killed by Pilate or by the falling tower.
In this season of Lent, the message of the Lord rings out loud and clear: God is patient and merciful, but He summons us to listen to His call to conversion and act on it. We are not to delay but to turn back to Him now, with all our heart and mind, so that we may not suffer calamity and ruin, but instead come to share in His gift of everlasting life.
Fr. De Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)