In today’s Gospel Our Lord is addressing and correcting a common misconception that has plagued the Israelites for a long time: the belief that bad things only happen to bad people, therefore they are always the punishment of God for being bad. This tendency is seen throughout the Old Testament, but the debate comes to a head in the book of Job where a just man is afflicted by misfortune and has to convince his “friends” that he’d done no wrong. Various psalms are those of a just man questioning why it seems the wicked are successful and healthy while the just are poor and afflicted. The question of evil and why God allows it is not just theological, but philosophical: we’re quick to blame God for every bad thing that happens to us and to others, or see evil as a reason for denying God’s existence at all.
The irony of this is that we blame a remote God for inflicting these things on people when God the Son has become flesh, preached mercy and salvation, worked miracles, suffered, and died on the Cross for our sins. God is involved, but he is involved in trying to rescue us from the true peril Our Lord reminds us of today: sin, the consequences of which lead to a result more horrible than being slaughtered by a corrupt leader for your political views or having a tower collapse on you: separation from God forever and eternal failure in life. Our Lord today bursts the bubble of those who think it’ll never happen to them because things seem to be going fine in life: good job, good health, etc. Sin and salvation operate on a different level and are not so easily identified without his help and his grace.
It’s no coincidence that Our Lord includes the parable of tending the fig tree along with this warning: it’s a reminder that God is not waiting for us to fail, but trying to help us to succeed in what really matters. Bad things happen to good people, and it is unpleasant; it stinks. Misfortune helps us to evaluate our life and make the necessary course corrections when we can: that applies to sinners as well as saints. We are that fig tree, Our Lord is the gardener who is willing to keep trying to nurture us in order to produce the fruit that is expected of us, and the master is Our Heavenly Father who comes back over and over again and is not quick to give up and easily convinced to keep giving another chance. Let’s respond today by examining our life and getting it on track, trusting that Our Lord is not waiting to bust us, but is at our side, helping us to succeed in what really matters.
Readings: Romans 8:1–11; Psalm 24:1–4b, 5–6; Luke 13:1–9.