We have witnessed, and experienced, our fair share of natural disasters and tragedies in Australia. The recent floods which left people stranded, and homeless remain fresh in our minds. The bushfires that annually wreak havoc across our land form a constant backdrop to the Australian psyche. And we have not been protected from random acts of terror and violence inflicted by the guns or motor vehicles turned into weapons by those we struggle to identify with and whom we cannot understand. In most recent times we have all been affected by the indiscriminate spread of a global pandemic. Natural disasters and acts of human cruelty seem to have existed throughout the history of humankind.
In this Sunday’s gospel, for the third week of Lent, Jesus gives us a commentary on the natural disasters and human acts of cruelty that were in the forefront of the minds of the people of his day. He makes reference to the massacre of a group of Galileans by Pilate. He also talks about the collapse of a tower at Siloam where eighteen people were killed. In mentioning these events, Jesus clearly wants to make a distinction between the bad things that happen and any associated punishment or moral impunity that goes with these events. In other words, he wants to be clear that these things do not happen because God is punishing us. At the same time the corollary must be true. We are not protected from these natural disasters or acts of cruelty because we have been good. What kind of world would we live in if we believed that good behaviour will be protected from a hurricane and the badly behaved will be inflicted with its devastation? Jesus’ conclusion is that these things, as tragic as they are, happen to the good and bad alike. It is part of the very fragile nature of human beings living in the world.
At the same time, these events might cause us to pause and reflect on life. They may invite us to think more deeply about how we want to live our lives. They can help us to (re)set our priorities. They can galvanise us as communities and elicit responses of empathy, compassion, kindness and love. This seems to be the invitation that Jesus is holding out to his followers in the gospel this Sunday. The word that the gospels use for this change of heart is ‘repentance’. And Jesus tells his followers that there is still time to ‘repent’ or to change your hearts. There is still time to realise that we are all in this world together and that we can respond to one another in ways that reflect an understanding that we share a common humanity.
The season of Lent gives us time. Jesus finishes his commentary today by talking about the fig tree that has not yet borne fruit. The final line of the gospel is the plea by the caretaker of the vineyard to the owner, to give the tree another year. Let’s see if we can feed it and care for it and then it may bear fruit next year. Jesus indicates that God has time and God gives us time. However, if we don’t use the time that we have humanity will not flourish, instead it will perish. This is a sobering message from Luke’s Gospel today.
By Fr Brendan Reed