Lent is the period of final, more intense preparation of the catechumens for the Baptism they will receive during the Easter Vigil: on the first Sunday the “Rite of Election” is celebrated; and on these Mid Lent Sundays there are the so-called “Scrutinies,” to which the traditional gospels of the Samaritan woman, the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus are interlinked. We read these passages in Year A. But Lent is also the time that prepares for celebration of Easter all the faithful, who recall their own Baptism and do penance. For this reason, in this year, during which we read Luke’s Gospel, the liturgy offers three passages from this Gospel about conversion.
You have heard the first of these passages. It is a very strong text. We are no more accustomed to such a language, especially from Jesus. He is always so sweet, so kind, so understanding, so merciful, that we would not expect from him tough words. And yet his goodness—which is indisputable—does not prevent him from admonishing us severely. Why? Because he does not want to deceive us by a false compassion. Life is no joke; it is awfully serious: we are free, but we have to know that whatever we do has its consequences. And we are responsible for them. We cannot say: “Sorry, I was just joking.” Jesus confronts us with reality; hiding it from us would be deceptive. The first form of charity is to tell the truth.
Two news items are reported to Jesus. We are not informed about them by other sources. In the first case Pontius Pilate had caused a massacre; in the other one, a tower had collapsed; in both cases there had been several casualties. Well, according to the Jewish mentality, there was a close connection between evil and sin: every accident, in their opinion, was caused by the sin of the person involved. Do you remember what the disciples asked Jesus about the man born blind? “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus did not share this mentality: it is true that evil is a consequence of sin; but there is no one-to-one correspondence between a tragedy and the sinfulness of the victims. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? … Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means!”
So far, we can easily agree with Jesus. If anything, in the first case, we would add a public condemnation of Pilate’s cruelty and of the Roman oppression, and, in the second case, we would blame God, because he lets innocent victims die, and we would probably wonder: “Where was God while the tower of Siloam was collapsing upon poor people?” This is the widespread mentality nowadays. Of course, Jesus cannot share this mentality, in the first case, because he is not a political revolutionary; in the second case, because certain reactions are simply blasphemous.
At least, we would expect Jesus somehow to reassure those present: “Don’t worry! It’s just an accident. You have nothing to fear. God is good: he will never allow something similar to happen to you.” Instead, Jesus says: “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Jesus takes his cue from two tragic events to invite us to repent. That terrible death is the end that awaits all of us, if we do not repent. We are all sinners; we are no better than those who fall victims of disasters; we would deserve the same punishment.
So, how come are we still here? How come do great sinners live at ease, careless of everything and of everybody? We find the answer to these questions in the small parable at the end of the gospel. The barren fig tree is not cut down because the gardener asks the owner to be patient: he will cultivate the ground and fertilize it, in the hope that the fig tree may bear fruit in the future. Our gardener is Jesus Christ, who never gives up hope of our conversion. God is patient and we have an advocate: let us not miss this opportunity!