This coming Sunday marks the third Sunday in Lent (Year C; but if you are attending a Mass at which one of the RCIA scrutinies is celebrating, you will hear readings other readings).You can read a complete commentary on this gospel here.
This gospel for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (Luke 13:1-9) is a pointed gospel about repentance, bearing fruit, and the time given us – and this well placed for the Lenten season. However, it is far removed from its narrative context. The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (summer season after Easter) begins in Luke 10. The sequential chapters of Luke are covered every Sunday up through the 20th Sunday which completes Luke 12. The 21st Sunday, skips over today’s gospel and begins with 13:22-30. So, in addition to its Lenten context, it would be good to review the larger context from the Lucan narrative stream.
All Scripture has a context, this passage included. Most outlines of Luke show our verses as part of a larger whole that begins in 12:1 and concludes in 13:9. A new day and setting is implied in 13:10 where we are told: “He was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath.” Prior to this Jesus had been preaching to his disciples, Peter, the crowds and people who were present. When one considers Luke 12 it is clear that Jesus calls for courage in times of persecution and danger. “Fear” is no longer a synonym for religious awe, but rather speaks to the times present and to come when there is fear of arrest; persecution; lost of position; place and wealth; and fear of death. Jesus speaks to those fears as he points to spiritual freedom symbolized by the generous disposition of possessions. Thus these are times for watchfulness and service – and ultimately a call for decision. It with this background that Jesus provides the warnings for repentance.
Luke 12:1-13:9 contains a number of saying common to or similar to Mark and Matthew. Brian Stoffregen has noted the following sayings are unique to Luke:
Warning Against Avarice 12:13-15
The Parable of the Rich Fool 12:16-21
Little Flock 12:32
Returning Master 12:35-38
Fire on Earth 12:49
Repent or Perish 12:1-5
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree 13:6-9
In the uniquely Lucan sayings there seems to be a special accent on God’s gracious actions on behalf of the people.
“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (12:32).
“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants” (12:35-38).
Our verses (13:1-9) contain that same emphasis, e.g., where the gardener seeks to spare the barren fig tree for one more year. It should be noted that the recipients of this divine grace have some responsibilities: not to be afraid, to be prepared and ready, to open the door for the master, to repent and to bear fruit.
- Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 9 of the New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004)
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997)
- Brian Stoffregen, “Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com