planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit
on this fig tree but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”
In the world of politics, the landscape is often divided into two, under the banners of liberal and conservative - the left and the right. The left is often described as being too loose and accommodating in its principles, while the right is held as too rigid and unbending.
This dividing line can also find its way into religion, creating opposing positions on theological interpretations of beliefs and practices. Pope Francis is considered by some to be too liberal leaning, and theypoint to his emphasis on mercy and his creation of a special Jubilee Year devoted to God's Mercy. What about God's Justice, they will ask. Are not sinners to face the consequences of their sins? Is there not a hell, or is this the "get-out-of-jail-free" year?
Scripture makes it clear that the wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23). But Jesus confronting the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, who condemn him for the way he deals with sinners, points to the prophet Ezekiel that God does not desire the death of sinners rather their conversion. (Ez. 18:23) Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mtt. 9:13)
Clearly, it would be to our pearl to ignore the call to holiness we hear in the gospel. But our hope rests not in our self-righteous, rather it is in God's Mercy, that continues to lift us out of our failures, giving us again and again the opportunity for conversion.
In today's gospel, Jesus uses a parable to give us insight into the workings of God's justice and mercy. In the parable there is a fig tree that has failed to produce any fruit for the past three years. "Cut it down", is the correct (the just) action to take. Three barren years is more than sufficient evidence that it has no value. But it is given a fourth year, and in that year positive efforts will be employed to give it a chance to revive.
Its purpose for existence remains the same, to bear fruit - in our case, the fruits of a holy life - the measure of our judgement. The additional year and the intervention of cultivation, add-ons from outside are given - in our case the gift of grace, sanctify grace, the grace of Mercy, continually given to the very last hour of the very last year, the fourth year.
Pope Francis is showing us that we are in the "fourth year", the Year of Mercy, the time remaining for us. Can we see any signs of fruit?