You don’t have to look very far these days to see bad news: terror attacks, strife and conflicts, children dying of hunger around the world, school and movie theater shootings. When an accident happens, whether caused by humans or by nature, we immediately seek the culprits because it places us on the side of good. It comforts us to assign blame to someone or something: the leaders of our countries, the economic system, the society in which we live, and, most especially, outwardly malicious individuals.
Our Gospel passage (Luke 13:1-9) deals with two circumstances of pain and death that Jesus used to provoke discussion on the problem of suffering and guilt. Popular belief during Christ’s time considered suffering as the punishment of misconduct. When mentioning the violent death of worshiping persons and purely accidental death caused by the collapse of a tower, Jesus rejects the idea that we should see the punishment of God in these dramas. He suggests, rather, that these unfortunate deaths should lead us to examine ourselves. In short, Jesus makes these events a call for conversion. Instead of looking to find the one who is guilty, Jesus encourages us to make an examination of our own consciences and reflect on our own shortcomings each time a tragedy happens.
People often mistakenly think that God is the author of disasters that strike humanity. The Scriptures as a whole, however, point us to another perspective. The world has been entrusted to us. It is up to us to manage it, to understand nature, and to establish fraternal relations. The resulting horrors of the world are not God’s fault; they are, in fact, the fault of individuals whose hearts have been corrupted by anger, greed, and hate. Humans who show no care for God or for the humanity of others steal the public good, not God.
In Christ, we can all see the conversion we need for a better humanity. Each of us is like the fig tree in our Gospel passage. We bear little fruit and we need the patience and the mercy of God to help us grow. We only need to look to Christ to see what kind of life we should lead in order to bear good fruit. You may have noticed that the parable of the fig tree does not have a conclusion. We do not know what happened to that tree. It is the same for us. The future is wide open! What will happen depends on us. With God’s help, we can become better people after each hardship, each mistake, and each celebration.
Advent is an ideal time to fertilize our tree. Prayer, fasting and sharing can improve the fertility of our land. Christ invites us today to enjoy the time that we have been granted, valuable time that is a gift from God: "Leave it alone for one more year... maybe he will bear fruit in the future."