Saturday of Week 29 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 13:1-9

Catastrophes or accidents which take people’s lives constantly force people to ask, Why? or Why them? Why did that young mother die giving birth to her child? Why did that young father die of cancer and leave behind a family struggling to survive? Why did my father die at the age of 66 while my mother lived to be 92?

Today, Jesus mentions two apparently recent incidents in which lives were lost. In one case, Pilate the Roman governor had some Galileans killed in the Temple precincts. It is not clear as to why, perhaps the Galileans had violated some Roman regulation about public order. In the other, eighteen people were killed when a tower in Siloam, inside the south-east section of Jerusalem’s wall, fell on top of them. There is no other record in history of either of these two events. However, the first is regarded as typical of Pilate’s administration.

The New American Bible carries the following note:

The slaughter of the Galileans by Pilate is unknown outside Luke; but from what is known about Pilate from the Jewish historian Josephus, such a slaughter would be in keeping with the character of Pilate. Josephus reports that Pilate had disrupted a religious gathering of the Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim with a slaughter of the participants (Antiquities 18,4,1 **86-87) and that on another occasion Pilate had killed many Jews who had opposed him, when he appropriated money from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem.
(Jewish War, 2,9,4 **175-177; Antiquities 18,3,2 **60-62)

It seems that some people at the time were saying that this was a punishment of God on these people for moral wrongs they had done. Jesus disagrees. “Do you think they were more guilty than anyone else who lived in Jerusalem?” Jesus asks. “Certainly not!” he asserts.

In fact, he says, his hearers will all meet a similar fate unless they change their ways. The sins of the victims were not the cause of their death but they are certainly warnings to the rest of us to see if we are ready for such an eventuality. And he goes on to illustrate his meaning with a parable.

A man had a fig tree in his garden which did not produce fruit. Eventually he told the gardener to cut the tree down because it had not given fruit for three years in a row and it was only taking up space. However, the gardener urged that the tree be left for one more year and be given one more chance. In the meantime, he would hoe the ground and add fertiliser. If, after those efforts, there was still no fruit, let it be cut down.

The story can be linked to what Jesus has just said. In a sense, the people he has been talking to are like fig trees that have not borne fruit. The three years mentioned in the story may refer to the length of Jesus’ own ministry. However, they still have a chance to turn their lives around, a chance which was not given to those who had died in those two incidents.

We, too, are being given a chance – for a day? A month? Several years? We have no idea. What is clear is that there is no time to waste; we have to start today. For God, the past is not what counts or the future but only the present. As long as I am with him NOW I have nothing to worry about.

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