The parable of the barren fig tree - the problem of evil
We can wring our hands and look at the world’s tragic headlines or we can look at the latest fall from grace of a bank official, politician or sports celebrity. The world is full of awful headlines – one famous newspaper editor famously out it – ‘I am not interested in good news.’ There are two reactions – discouragement or indifference.
Jesus refers if you like to two main headlines lost to history otherwise – the crushing to death at the tower of Siloam, and the death of the rebelling Galileans. These were obviously shocking – one was Pilate’s doing, the other was nobody’s fault. There are natural and man-made disasters, perhaps though there might be an inquiry and new safety regulations and legislation if the tower collapse were to happen today.
These inquiries lose their immediate sensational appeal and become news on page 5 or on the bottom of some page much later. Meanwhile newspaper editors and journalists have moved on to the next tragedy and the next sensation, under pressure to meet a deadline and have to get their headline. If you ever look at the RTE series ‘Reeling in the years’ it is surprising - as the French saying goes - ‘that the more things change the more they stay the same’ – disasters and terrorist attacks, civil wars, celebrity scandals.
How do we react?
How do we react?
· The danger for all of us is to fall into indifference and shrug our shoulders, as if to say ‘it’s nothing to do with me’.
· Another – (Jewish) superstitious response would be to think, ‘well they must have done something to deserve it, and they were cruising, playing with fire, that’s what you get for playing with matches’ they got what they deserved, God punished them.’
· Another equally wrong alternative in the midst of so many scandals is to say ‘I’m not too bad after all’, I’m not a bad person, and I don’t do anyone any harm’.
The result is the same – whether you choose indifference or blame, we are not affected, and we do not act.
The challenge Jesus poses to us today is, well, what do you do?
Jesus teaches that these awful evils are not on merit! We are often puzzled by how good living people suffer so much; we have no answer to that.
The problem of evil is not one that can be solved, nor can we figure out how God permits awful tragedies to the young and innocent, and we wonder why he doesn’t intervene more.
In the season of Lent we are warned, there is accountability. Instead of smugness or indifference, we are reminded to look to ourselves: it is before God that each of us must render account for our deeds. Lent - with the image of the unfruitful fig tree- taking form the soil but producing no fruit - is another opportunity to ask ourselves – doi I take more than I give. Now is the time to produce fruits of compassion, charity and forgiveness.
I remember a boy I used to teach in school in Fermoy – ‘Jack’ I will call him. He could not concentrate in class – and on Friday afternoon for double science I found it difficult to keep him sitting still. In the end after repeated warnings I would have to send him out of the class for disruptive behaviour. It became a bit of a buzz word or catchphrase in the class because inevitably Jack would say ‘ah, Father, one more chance, I’ll be good, and I mean it this time.’ He would even attempt to re-enter the class from the corridor – ‘ah Father can you let me back in? I’ll be good this time, I promise.’ Poor Jack was eventually expelled from school a year later.
But I wonder how much I am like Jack before God?