Text in red are my additions.
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.
Whose blood Pilate had mingled. That is, whom while they were sacrificing in Mount Gerizim in Samaria, Pilate slew. He slew them that their blood might be mingled with the blood of their victims. Josephus relates the whole at length (Antiq., book xviii. chap. 7), as also does Hegesippus on the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus says, “A certain impostor incited the people to assemble on Mount Gerizim, a mountain which they held very sacred, by the promise of shewing them certain vessels which Moses had deposited there and he had dug up. They credulously took arms and occupied the village Tirathaba, awaiting the arrival of others that they might ascend the mountain in force. But Pilate seized it before them, and held it with cavalry and foot soldiers. These attacked the Samaritans in the village, killing some and putting the rest to flight. He also took many prisoners, the chief and most powerful of whom he put to death.”
It may be said, “Josephus asserts them to have been Samaritans; how then does Christ call them Galileans?” The answer is, “They were called Samaritans from their country and nation, but Galileans from their sect and heresy.” So says Baronius. To explain the matter, observe that Judas of Galilee, as St. Luke says, Acts 5:37, was the author of the sect of Galileans who rebelled against Cæsar, saying that it was not lawful for the Jews, who were a faithful people, and worshipped the true God, to be subject to Caesar, a Gentile, and an idolater, and to give him tribute; for they ought to acknowledge and obey no other lord but God. So S. Cyril in the Catena, Theophylact, Euthymius, and Titus. Hence Pilate sent a force and destroyed them. This sect arose about the time of Christ. Hence Christ and the Apostles, being Galileans by nation, were accused of the same, and they therefore carefully taught in opposition that tribute ought to be given to kings and to Cæsar, even if Gentiles. Francis Lucas thinks that these Galileans were slain by Pilate in Jerusalem, when they were sacrificing in the Temple, because Pilate was Procurator of Judæa and not of Samaria. But Josephus plainly says that they were killed in Mount Gerizim, which is in Samaria. The Samaritans, moreover, were a schism from the Jews, and would not go into the Temple at Jerusalem, but built another in their own power on mount Gerizim, as we find from S. John 4:20. Pilate therefore attacked these Samaritans as rebels, and put them to death in Samaria, as open enemies to Cæsar. When the slaughter of the Samaritans was frequently repeated, there were different opinions on the subject, many affirming that they were wicked men and hated by God; their sacrifices not only being rejected but also mixed with their blood. They related this to Christ and asked His opinion of the matter, but, Christ made a wise use of this occasion, and drew from it an argument to rouse them to repentance, lest a similar vengeance should fall upon them. The preacher should follow this example, and when public slaughter, pest, famine, or wars befall, exhort his people to repentance, that they may escape such inflictions and, with them, the torments of Gehenna.
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?
And he answering, said to them: think you, &c. They did suppose this, but wrongly, for God often corrects those who sin less heavily, to make them an example and a terror to others, and so incite them to penitence. So Bede, Titus, and others.
Luk 13:3 No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.
“Likewise“—that is, by a similar death, none excepted, says Maldonatus; and so Wisdom 6:8~”He hath made the small and great, and careth for all alike. For He cares for all without exception, though for some more and for others less.” Secondly, and more simply, You shall equally perish, though by another kind of death, by an eternal instead of a temporal one, or even by a temporal. Thirdly, and properly, Jansenius says, “By a similar death; the destruction and vengeance of God.” For the Jews were besieged by Titus at the time of the Passover, when they were sacrificing; and, when the city was taken, many were slain in the temple, where they were sacrificing, and accustomed to sacrifice. So Euthymius, S. Thomas, Hugo, N. de Lyra, S. Cyril in the Catena.
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.
Symbolically: Bede says that Pilate means, the mouth of the hammerer, (os malleatoris) that is, the Devil, who is always ready to destroy. “Blood”—that is, sin and concupiscence. The sacrifices are good actions which the Devil, either for the delight of the flesh, or from the ambition of human praise, or some other evil motive, pollutes.
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?
Or those eighteen upon who the tower fell in Siloe. There was a fountain, or rather pool, near Jerusalem of which Isaiah speaks, “This people refuses the waters of Shiloah that go softly,” Isa 8:6. Near this fountain was a tower also called Siloë, from it, which in the time of Christ fell down, either from the force of the wind, or from lightning, or an earthquake, or some other like cause, and destroyed eighteen persons who were either in it, or standing near. This, if we only regard secondary causes, may have happened by chance; but if we consider the one primary one, that is, God, it was done by His appointed Providence, who determines to punish some and to terrify others. For with God nothing is fortuitous, but everything is certainly foreseen and prepared, that nothing in His Kingdom should, as Boethius says, be ascribed to chance or temerity. God, then, orders these events for the chastisement and correction of man, that others, seeing their neighbours killed by the fall of a tower or some other sudden accident, may fear lest something similar happen to themselves, and so may repent and reconcile themselves to God, lest they be overwhelmed by His judgments and condemned to Gehenna. This is what God said by the prophet Amos, “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Isa 3:6; and by Isaiah, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil” Isa 45:7. The poets and philosophers saw the same through a shade:
“0 Thou who dost the affairs
Of men and gods, by laws eternal rule,
And by thy lightning fierce dost terrify.”
And Plutarch (In Moral.), “As if a blind man should fall against a person, and call that person blind for not avoiding him, so we make Fortune blind, whereas we stumble against her from our own want of sight. For this very ‘Fortuna fortunans,’ which is, in truth, no other than God Himself, and the Providence of God is most keen of sight, and has many more eyes than Argus.”
Symbolically: “The tower,” says Bede, “is Christ, Siloë, that is, He who is sent by the Father into the world, and who crushes to powder all the wicked upon whom He falls, through the sentence of His condemnation.”
Think you that they also were debtors above all the men that dwelt in Jerusalem? the Arabic has culpabiles; the Chaldaic, chare bim, i.e. debtors (for a debtor owes his soul, that is 10,000 talents, S. Matt 18:24, to God). Christ shows clearly that these eighteen who were killed by the fall of the tower of Siloam (Siloe), were sinners, though not, perhaps, the worst and greatest that were in Jerusalem.
Luk 13:5 No, I say to you: but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish.
“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.”
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?
“Cumbereth”—the Greek is κατάζγει, that is, loads with a useless burthen (burden), nay, renders the ground barren and fruitless, as well by its shade as by its roots, which keep the earth’s moisture from the other trees. The Syriac says, “keeps it idle;” for άζγον, is idle, inert, devoid of strength.
In the letter the fig-tree represents the synagogue of the Jews, which God planted through the prophets; to which Christ came by the Incarnation, to cultivate it by His preaching. Christ, therefore, is the keeper of the vine, that is, of the synagogue, to whom God said, “Cut it down, for now for three years in which Thou hast preached to it, I have looked for the fruit of faith and good works, and I find none, from the unbelief, turpitude, and rejection of the Jews.” Christ intercedes for it, that the Father would allow Him to tend it by His preaching for one year more, or, at least, for half an one; and then, if it gave no fruit, it might be cut down. So it came to pass: for the Jews, in the fourth year of Christ’s preaching, at the Passover, adding sin to sin, and becoming more and more hostile, crucified Him; so that, a few years after, Titus was sent by God as His avenger, and took Jerusalem, and destroyed all Judæa. What remains are additions belonging to the finish of the parable, which it is unnecessary to apply to what is signified by it. What is said here needs to be seen in relation to St Paul’s teaching concerning God’s plan for Israel in Romans 9-11.
S. Ambrose observes, that the fig-tree is an apt symbol of the Synagogue: first, because it was a tree with abundance of leaves, but which disappointed its owner in his hope of fruit. Secondly, while the doctors of the Synagogue were fruitless of good works and boasted only of words like redundant leaves, the vain shadow of the law flourished exuberantly, but the false hope of the expected produce deceived the prayers of the people.
Secondly, as the fig puts out a green, that is an immature fig instead of blossoms, which soon falls, and then produces a savoury and solid fruit, so the Synagogue firstly put forth the Jews, like green and evanescent fruit, and then, through Christ, gave Christians, like mature and savoury figs. So Pliny, viii 7, “Figs are produced late, if the green fruit, when exceeding the size of a bean, are taken away, for then are produced figs that ripen later.”
Tropologically: The fig is any individual person, especially a believer; the gardener is Christ, the Apostles, and the like; the Lord is God the Father, or the Holy Trinity. Our own Salmeron (tom. vii., tract 21), gives various reasons and analogies, why the faithful are compared to a fig. 1. The fig produces sweet fruit, which seems to be purses of honey and sugar, and the righteous produce the like. 2. As the fig tree increases little in height but is always short, so the righteous cast themselves down, and humble themselves. 3. The fig, instead of blossoms, gives fruit, and that twice; namely, the early ripe in the summer, and in the autumn the later—for the fig bears twice a year, as the righteous is ever plentifully bringing forth the fruit of good works. 4. As the fig makes a shade with its ample leaves, so the righteous defends and protects others by his charity. 5. The fig is never grafted, into another tree, because of its exceeding sweetness, which cannot leave it. So the righteous rests in no man, but in God alone and his own conscience. 6. The, fig tree, if stripped of its bark, gives no fruit, but withers away; and .the righteous, unless protected by the bark of honest conversation, modesty, and outward decency, will bring no fruit with his neighbours. 7. The fig has medical properties, and heals diseases, as Isaiah healed Hezekiah by means of a fig (Isa 38:21). Pliny also says that the fig alone, of trees, has medical virtues. So the righteous, because he is perfect and mature in virtue, ministers to the infirmities of others, by teaching, advising, and living holily. He adds that lopping and pruning it remedies its too great luxuriousness; as the righteous by circumcising and cutting off the desire of honour above, and the appetites of the senses below, by meditations on death and burial, is rendered fruitful in virtue and good works, and converts many of his neighbours to God.
Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit. This alludes to the nature of the fig tree, which sometimes gives fruit in its third year. If not then, it commonly does not give it at all.
Symbolically: these three years, according to Euthymius, signify the three policies or political status of the Jews, under the judges, Kings, and the High Priests, namely the Maccabees. St. Ambrose says “He came to Abraham, He came to Moses, He came to Mary; that is, He came in circumcision, He came in the Law, He came in the body. We acknowledge His Advent from His benefits to us. In the first, Purification; in the second, Sanctification; in the third, justification—Circumcision purified, the Law sanctified, Grace justified—one in all, and all in one; no one can he cleansed but one who fears God: no one deserves to receive the Law but one who is purified from sin: no one comes to Grace but he who knows the Law.” So also St. Cyril: “God sought the nature of the human race before the Law, under the Law, and under Grace by waiting, admonishing, visiting; but some are not corrected by the natural law, nor taught by precept, nor converted by miracle.”
Tropologically: these three years, says Theophylact, are the three ages of man—childhood; full manhood; and old age. For every one ought at all times to bring forth the fruits of virtue to God, as is fitting and proportionate to every age. God, who would have no age of man idle, requires these of every one.
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.
But He, namely, the dresser of the Vine, Christ and the Apostles, answering said to him. Christ and the Apostles, says the Interlineator, knowing that some of the Jews could be saved, pray God to delay the avenging of the Lord’s cross, that is, the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.
And dung it. This is, as S. Ambrose says, the feeling of humility, and S. Augustine (De Verb. Dom.): “Dung is filth, but it causes fruitfulness. The filth of the vine-dresser is the grief of the sinner.” And S. Gregory, “Dung is the sins of the flesh, from which the mind is roused to good works.” Apparently Saints Ambrose and Gregory understand the dunging here as referring to the act of making sinners aware of their need for repentance which leads to the bearing of good fruit. The “sins of the flesh” mentioned by Gregory include-but are not confined to-sexual sins, an understanding many moderns might give to the term. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest: which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21).
And if happily it bear fruit. Understand, “It shall be well, it shall be safe, and it shall be saved.” It is an aposiopesis. The Arabic adds, “For it has brought forth fruit.” The Synagogue formerly gave fruit under Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and others.
But if not, then after thou shalt cut it down. And this cutting down happened under the Roman general Titus.
Mystically: S. Augustine (De Verb. Dom.) says: “He who intercedes is all holy; who, within the Church, prays for those who are without.” To dig about the conscience is to teach humility and patience, and to engraft on the mind the consideration of heaven and heavenly things, lest, as S. Ambrose says, the heap overwhelm the root of earthly wisdom and of earthly desires and hide it from view.