3 March 2013
Third Sunday in Lent
Lent 3C (RCL)
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is a continuation of event in the great salvation history we read during Lent. After the covenant with Abram (last week), we hear the story of Moses’ encounter with I AM at the burning bush. Despite Moses’ objections, I AM sends him to release the people from Pharaoh’s oppression.
The Gospel reading presents a number of opportunities for interpretation. First, the fig tree. Mark intercalates the parable of the vineyard and its wicked tenants into the account of Jesus cursing the fig tree on his way into Jerusalem. The fig tree, in that instance, surely represents Israel, reflecting Isaiah 5, along with the vineyard. When the disciples see the withered fig tree, Jesus says that whoever has faith the size of a mustard seed could say to “this mountain” ‘be uprooted and cast into the see’ — obviously, Mount Zion. Mark takes a very dim view of ‘Israel’, and sees the destruction of Jerusalem as Israel’s just deserts. Luke softens Mark’s view of Israel, having Jesus twice lament over Jerusalem.
The only appearance of a fig tree in Luke’s Gospel is this parable. If the fig tree here represents Israel, Luke is suggesting that God is willing to see what fruit Israel can still produce, given proper cultivation.
Which I think helps make sense of the two logia just before this parable. If Mark sees the destruction of Jerusalem as Israel’s just deserts, Luke is suggesting that Mark’s theology is off point. Deuteronomy and the deuteronomistic historians taught that Israel had brought on its own misfortune in the first destruction of Jerusalem by their own sins (worshiping other gods). So, certain people ‘at that very hour’ told Jesus of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifice (slaughtered in the Temple courtyard). Jesus asks if they are worse sinners than anyone else, and answers, no, but unless you repent, you’re in the same boat. Same with a natural catastrophe — this is not payback for anything, but unless all repent it could happen to them (there but for the grace of God go all of us).
With the emphasis on repentance and the fruit of the fig tree, we are reminded of the preaching of John the Baptist (the ax is lying at the root of the tree; bear fruit that befits repentance) at the beginning of the Gospel. If Luke’s community thinks they’re exempt from this kind of thing, they need to be careful — just like Paul warns the Corinthians, if you think you are standing watch out lest you fall.
We tend to want to blame the unfortunate for their own misfortune (the poor, those on welfare, street people, etc.), but unless we bear fruit that befits repentance, we could end up there as well. Take the misfortune that happens our own lives, and dig it in around the roots of the fig tree so that we are fruitful. What might a fruitful community look like? What are the fruits that we might bear? Compassion, perhaps, juicy living for all.