The Divine Lamp

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Archive for March 2nd, 2010

My Notes on Luke 13:1-9

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 2, 2010

This was originally posted during Lent.

Background~The context of today’s reading begins at 9:51 and extends to 13:21., and it highlights Luke’s genius as a catechist.  This section can be divided into two major parts, 9:51-11:54 and 12:1-13:21.  The more immediate context is 12:1-13:21, which, it should be noted, begins with our Lord warning people concerning the hypocrisy of the Pharisees; a warning which builds upon their denunciation by Jesus at the end of the first major part (11:37-54).  This warning concerning hypocrisy is immediately followed by another warning, this time it concerns not fearing bodily death but, rather, the one who has the power to cast into hell.  God knows who you are, what you have said and heard, every little detail about you; facts which highlight the foolishness of the sin of hypocrisy (see 12:2-7).  Likewise, he cares for you and will give you help in times of trouble, making the sin of blaspheme silly (12:8-12).  The only possession that really counts is being possessed by God as something of worth (see 12:24), and so we should use and dispense with our possessions with an eye towards eternity, thus avoiding the sin of greed (12:13-34).  Since we do not know when we will be called to account by the returning Lord we must needs always be vigilant (12:35-48).  The very nature of the life to which our Lord has called us demands such vigilance (12:49-53).  So too does the time in which we live, but we  often-willfully and hypocritically-do not take heed of the signs (12:54-57).  Who in their right mind would go to court knowing that he was in fact guilty and that his condemnation was assured?  Would it not be better to settle with an opponent before that happened, when it would then be too late (12:57-59)? Unless you repent before your opponent will you not perish (13:1-5)?  The barren fruit tree will be cut down if it does not begin to produce fruit (13:6-9).

Notes on the Text: For those who wish to read the text before viewing the notes (though in my notes I include the text in the DRV) you can view the NAB version here, and the RSV here.

The Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture summarizes the purpose of the entire chapter thus: A Call to Repentance —Proper to Lk, carrying on the theme of the discourse just concluded. The fate of Israel is at stake, and the Jews will no longer find any advantage over other men. Indeed they will have the mortification of seeing themselves excluded from the Kingdom of God, while those whom they have despised as outcasts from God will be received, 25-30. Therefore while there is time let them bring forth fruits of repentance, a lesson emphasized by the Parable of the Fig-tree. The allegorical application is clear; Israel is receiving the most careful attention from the Divine Gardener, as the presence of Jesus proves, but failure to respond will entail speedy and final punishment. The note of impending disaster is increasing.

Of course, the moral is applicable to all, not just our Lord’s own countrymen of His own time.

Luk 13:1  And there were present, at that very time, some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

This event, and the one referred to in verse 4, are otherwise unknown to history.  Many older scholars thought that the event in this verse referred to Pilate’s bloodletting against the Samaritans as narrated by Josephus, but I’m not aware of any modern scholar who would accept that.  Some hold that it may refer to the insurrection of Judas the Galilean, but this too is uncertain.  See my forthcoming post Cornelius a Lapide on Luke 13:1-9 for more on this.

The Gloss Thomas Aquinas quotes in his Catena helps set the context of our Lord’s words: As He had been speaking of the punishments of sinners, the story is fitly told Him of the punishment of certain particular sinners, from which He takes occasion to denounce vengeance also against other sinners: as it is said, There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

Such is the context.  As for the purpose of the introduction of this event to Jesus by those who were present, Bishop MacEvily writes: It is likely that the event was of very recent date, and that these men who announced it to our Lord, implied that the sufferers must have been guilty of sins of peculiar enormity; or, they may have in view to elicit from Him, as in the case of the man born blind (John 9), what grievous sins these Galileans had committed to draw down on them such signal punishment.  For, from our Lord’s answer (next verse), correcting their erroneous notions on this point, they seemed to think, that the infliction of grievous and extraordinary punishment (which, though apparently fortuitous in the course of human events, is fixed and determined by the providence of God), was a proof of enormous and exceptional crime on the part of those so punished (Acts 28:3-4).  The Jews were greatly addicted to these views (John 9 (2-3).  Against this alse notion, the argument of the whole book of Job is specially directed.

Luk 13:2  And he answering, said to them: Think you that these Galileans were sinners above all the men of Galilee, because they suffered such things?

An easy assumption for anyone to make, then as now.  Perhaps it was this assumption that led to the hardheartedness exhibited by the “hypocrites” who objected to the healing of the woman on the Sabbath (see 13:10-17).  Those who live on the assumption that they are better than others will perish, hearing the words: “I know you not, whence you are. Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” (see 13:22-30).

Bishop MacEvily: Our Lord combats this false opinion, and shows them, that exceptional punishment is not always a proof of exceptional guilt; that God, out of a large number of sinners equally guilty, selects some for signal punishment, as is often done in the decimation of an army, as a warning and lesson to the rest, although all may be equally deserving of punishment; and from this, He takes occasion to inculcate on all the necessity of penance, if, being equally guilty, they wish to escape the like fate.  He admits that these Galileans met with deserved punishment for their sins-although in some cases it happens that the just are visited with great temporal calamities, to test their virtue and increase their merit-and He proclaims that His hearers were guilty and deserving of equally great punishment.

Luk 13:3  No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.

Vehemently disavows the suggested thought in the last verse.

Lapide: Observe that Christ here teaches us, in like calamities, to give our minds to the thought of our sins, and to repentance, that we fall not into the like punishments of God.

You shall all likewise perish.  St John Chrysostom, commenting of the force of “likewise”: And herein he shows that He permitted them to suffer such things, that the heirs of the kingdom yet living might be dismayed by the dangers of others. “What then,” you will say, “is this man punished, that I might become better?” Nay, but he is punished for his own crimes, and hence arises an opportunity of salvation to those who see it.

The warning our Lord gives here is very apropos, since it prepares for the lament over Jerusalem  which comes at the end of this chapter: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets; and stonest them that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children as the bird doth her brood under her wings, and thou wouldest not?  Behold your house shall be left to you desolate” (13:34-35a).  But, as already noted, the literal meaning in no way does away with the moral which is applicable to all.

Bede: But because they repented not in the fortieth year of our Lord’s Passion, the Romans coming, (whom Pilate represented, as belonging to their nation,) and beginning from Galilee, (whence our Lord’s preaching had begun,) utterly destroyed that nation, and defiled with human blood not only the courts of the temples, where they were wont to offer sacrifices, but also the inner parts of the doors, (where there was no entrance to the Galileans).

Luk 13:4  Or those eighteen upon whom the tower fell in Siloe and slew them: think you that they also were debtors above all the men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
Luk 13:5  No, I say to you: but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish.

Basically reasserts the teaching of the previous verses , and for the same reason.  The repetition is for emphasis.

Concerning verse 5: “This shows,” says S. Chrysostom, “that these eighteen were appointed as an example and terror to the others; though each was punished for his own sins. This was made wholesome matter for others, that the fool might be made wiser by the event. For God does not punish all here, but He leaves a time for repentance. Again, he does not leave all for a future punishment, lest many should deny His Providence” (Quoted by Lapide).

Luk 13:6  He spoke also this parable: A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard: and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.
Luk 13:7  And he said to the dresser of the vineyard: Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree and I find none. Cut it down therefore. Why cumbereth it the ground?
Luk 13:8 But he answering, said to him: Lord, let it alone this year also, until I dig about it and dung it.
Luk 13:9  And if happily it bear fruit: but if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

A certain man.  Usually interpreted as our Blessed Lord himself, and the belief that His mission lasted three years.  The fourth year (vs 8) is understood to be the generation that passed between our Lord’s Passion/Resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem.  This time was a time for the preaching of repentance.  For the importance of this time period in Luke, see Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary LUKE, in the Sacra Pagina Series, notably the introduction, pages 19-20, entitled The Mosaic Pattern.

St BEDE: The Lord Himself who established the synagogue by Moses, came born in the flesh, and frequently teaching in the synagogue, sought for the fruits of faith, but in the hearts of the Pharisees found none; therefore it follows, And came seeking fruit on it, and found none.

St Ambrose: Hence it follows, And he answering said to him, Lord, let it alone this year also. He soon perceived hardness of bears and pride to be the causes of the barrenness of the Jews. He knew therefore how to discipline, who knew how to censure faults. Therefore adds He, till I shall dig about it. He promises that the hardness of their hearts shall be dug about by the Apostles’ spades, lest a heap of earth cover up and obscure the root of wisdom. And He adds, and dung it, that is, by the grace of humility, by which even the fig is thought to become fruitful toward the Gospel of Christ. Hence He adds, And if it bear fruit, well, that is, it shall be well, but if not, then after that you shall cut it down.

As noted concerning the previous verses (1-5), the moral is not limited to the Lord’s own countrymen of His own time, but for all.

Bishop MacEvily:  This parable is accommodated by some Commentators to the Jewish Synagogue.  But, the illustration applies to all unrepenting sinners, whose final doom is represented by that of the fig-tree in the parable.

These verses (i.e., 8-9) contain the ornamental parts of the parable.  They, at the same time, convey to us an idea of the great patience and long-suffering of God in regard to impenitent sinners, with whom He bears, and to whom He repeatedly tenders His graces and loving invitations to return to Him by penance, and by the performance of good works.

Bishop Spirago: God makes this promise to the contrite sinner: “If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool (Isa 1:18).  God makes no distinction between sinners…Therefore no man is so godless and wicked but he may yet hope to obtain forgiveness, provided he is sincerely sorry for his transgressions.  In fact God receives the sinner more graciously the greater his sin has been, just as a fisherman pursues his work more gladly, the bigger the fish he catches.  The sin against the Holy Ghost is the only one which admits of no forgiveness, because the man who sins against the Holy Ghost is the man who will not amend.  The fault does not rest with God, but with the man; for even if he acknowledges his sin he will not abandon it, and consequently does not bewail it.  Without contrition and change of heart there is no forgiveness.

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