POPE FRANCIS ON THE PARABLE OF THE BARREN FIG TREE.
Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave March 24, 2019, 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C), before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Before the Angelus:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The Gospel of this Third Sunday of Lent (Cf. Luke 13:1-9) speaks to us of God’s mercy and of our conversion. Jesus tells the parable of the barren fig tree. A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and, every summer, he went with much confidence seeking fruit on it and found none, because that tree was barren. Spurred by that disappointment repeated for a good three years, he thinks, therefore, of felling the fig tree, to plant another. So he calls the vinedresser who is in the vineyard and expresses to him his dissatisfaction, urging him to cut down the tree, so that it doesn’t use up the ground. However, the vinedresser asks the master to have patience and requests from him a one-year extension, during which he himself will give the fig tree more careful and attentive care, to stimulate its productivity. This is the parable. What does this parable represent? Who do the personalities of this parable represent?
The master represents God the Father and the vinedresser is an image of Jesus, while the fig tree is the symbol of indifferent and arid humanity. Jesus intercedes with the Father in favor of humanity — and He does so always — and asks Him to wait and to grant Him more time so that in it the fruits of love and justice can sprout. The fig tree, which the master of the parable wants to extirpate, represents a barren existence incapable of giving, of doing good. It’s the symbol of one who lives for himself, satiated and tranquil, couched in his own comfort, incapable of turning his look and heart to those around him who are in a condition of suffering, of poverty <and> of hardship. Opposed to this attitude of egoism and spiritual sterility, is the great love of the vinedresser for the fig tree: he makes the master wait, he has patience; he knows how to wait <and> he dedicates his time and work to it. He promises the master to take particular care of that unhappy tree.
And this similitude of the vinedresser manifests the mercy of God, who gives us time for conversion. We all need to convert, to take a step forward, and God’s patience and mercy accompany us in this. Despite the sterility that sometimes marks our existence, God has patience and He offers us the possibility to change and to progress on the path of goodness. However, the delay implored and granted in the expectation that the tree will finally bear fruit indicates also the urgency of conversion. The vinedresser says to the master: “Let it alone this year also” (v. 8). The possibility of conversion isn’t unlimited, hence, it’s necessary to seize it immediately; otherwise, it will be lost forever. In this Lent, we can think: what must I do to get closer to the Lord, to convert, to “cut” those things that aren’t right? “No, no, I’ll wait for next Lent.” However, will you be alive next Lent? Let each of us think today: what must I do in face of this mercy of God, who waits for me and always forgives? What must I do? We can have great trust in God’s mercy, but without abusing it. We must not justify spiritual sloth but increase our commitment to correspond promptly to this mercy with sincerity of heart.
In the time of Lent, the Lord invites us to conversion. Each one of us must feel him/herself questioned by this call, correcting something in our life, in our way of thinking, of acting and of living our relations with our neighbor. At the same time, we must imitate the patience of God, who trusts in everyone’s capacity to “rise again” and take up the path. God is Father, and He does not extinguish the weak flame but accompanies and cares for one who is weak so that he is strengthened and brings his contribution of love to the community. May the Virgin Mary help us to live these days of preparation for Easter, as a time of spiritual renewal and confident openness to God’s grace and mercy.
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
© Libreria Editrice Vatican