Tag Archives: fig

Jesus and fig tree: God is patient with our procrastination, with our failure to repent, but not indefinitely

Yesterday in Rome some of the seminarians from the USA received the minor ministry of Acolyte from Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, OP, 68, native of the Bronx, NY, and vice-president of the Pontifical Ecclesia Dei commission. Don’t miss the gardner … he’s important in Jesus’ narrative. Part of DiNoia’s homily is here.

Jesus and the Fig.jpg

Our Lord’s examples in today’s Gospel are like this–instances of catastrophes everyone has heard about. He anticipates what his hearers might be thinking: do these events have some religious or moral significance?  Were the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices greater sinners than all other Galileans, or were the eighteen people upon whom the tower in Siloam collapsed greater sinners than all the inhabitants of Jerusalem?

His response to the questions he poses is brief and deceptively simple. The lesson to be drawn from these events is most surely not that those who perished were greater sinners than those who survived or were entirely unaffected. Rather it is this: if we do not repent, all of us will perish. In fuller terms the point is that since all of us are sinners, and the end of life can be so unexpected, then there can be no reason to postpone repentance. Nothing is to be gained by procrastination. If we knew that our lives were going to come to an end on such and such a day in the future–say, ten years from now–then we could delay repentance until a safe interval before that date. But we don’t know this. Death will be as unexpected for us as for those who perished in these catastrophes.

Our Lord underscores precisely this point by means of the parable of the fig tree. Though the fig tree has been barren for three years, the owner of the orchard agrees to give it a reprieve: one more year. Likewise, God is patient with our procrastination, with our failure to bear the fruit of true repentance, but not indefinitely so. “With fear and trembling,” says St. Gregory the Great, “should we hear the words…., ‘cut it down‘…. He who will not by correction grow rich unto fruitfulness, falls to that place from whence he is no longer able to rise by repentance.”(Homily 31 on the Gospel of Luke).

But there is a bright side to today’s sobering Lenten message–as it happens something wonderfully apt on this occasion of the Institution of Acolytes. It is to be found in the humble figure of the gardener in the parable of the fig tree. For it is at his suggestion–we might well say his intercession–that the owner of the orchard gives the barren fig tree yet another year. “Let us not then strike suddenly,” says St. Gregory Nazianzen, “but overcome by gentleness, lest we cut down the fig tree still able to bear fruit, which the care perhaps of a skillful dresser will restore” (Oration 32).  Not only does the gardener put in a good word for the fig tree, but he has a plan for improving its chances of bearing fruit in the coming year: to dig around the tree and fertilize it, to give it special care.

The figure of the gardener is easy to miss, but in the rich tradition of patristic commentary on this parable he gets a lot of attention. A particularly significant reading of the parable sees him as representing Christ who implores the Father to allow him to water the tree with his teaching and his sufferings so that it will yield the fruit of repentance and good works.

Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P. 

Third Sunday of Lent: Institution of Acolytes

3 March 2013

Pontifical North American College, Rome

When Fig Leaves Sprout

Fig Tree by mumacas.jpgMy neighbor has several fig trees. His children are now in the process of wrapping them up for the winter –New England is not an agreeable place to raise fig trees all year.

The opening prayer for Mass today speaks of “the constant gladness of being devoted to you [that is, God]” because God is “the author of all that is good.” This gladness, this happiness, and good is always lived in posture of hope. Symbolically, in many ways the fig is a tangible sign of happiness and goodness. In the Bible the fig tree is posited as figure of these virtues. Variously the fig is interpreted as symbolic of the good, of peace, personal and national prosperity, safety, concern for the other, personal and national fulfillment, and probably the most important, the Promised Land.

Likely to be the most spoken of tree is the fig. Our first parents cover themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7), as a sweet and satisfying fruit is the fig (1 Kings 4:25) and if you need shade when you study the Word of God outside you would sit under a fig tree (John 1:48) or if you need a spring fruit for the table you would have figs (Hosea 9:10). So, it’s no surprise that the Lord uses the fig to illustrate a point in the synoptic gospels about being a disciple and of the Church.

Based on today’s Scripture readings, the poem “When Fig Leaves Sprout” by Minnesota composer William Beckstrand captures the sense of what we are about in the Christian life.

When fig leaves sprout, the summer’s near;
Just so, when sun and moon grow dim,
This earth and heav’n will pass and Christ
Will come and raise the dead with him.

This coming Christ, who
once for all
A sacrifice for sin’s dark stain
Has offered, will bring back to
All those who sleep, for doom or gain.

Secure with Jesus, Advocate
pleads for us at God’s right hand,
We daily work to do God’s will,
And wait His
coming stern and grand.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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