by Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 27, 2013. Copyright
The Gospel reading for next Sunday tells of Jesus speaking about terrorism and violence, and an urgent invitation to turn.
Some people tell Jesus “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” The speakers seem to be contrasting the Galileans – known for their armed resistance to Roman rule – and the Jerusalemites. Jesus himself is a Galilean! As often happens, the non-Galileans are putting him to the test, and as he does so often and so ably, Jesus the Galilean Jewish rabbi begins by appearing to agree with their prejudice. He asks whether these violent Galileans were any different from the rest of the Galileans. One can almost hear the applause from the more sophisticated Jerusalemites.
Then he quickly shifts ground to a scene in Jerusalem. He asks them whether the eighteen saboteurs “upon the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them, do you think they were worse sinners than all others in Jerusalem? No,” he says, “but unless you (plural) reform/ repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Here is the text in an unfamiliar form from The Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB) Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011 by Artists for Israel International.
1 Now on the same occasion there were some present reporting to Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach about the men of the Galil whose blood Pilate mixed with their zevakhim (sacrifices).
2 And, in reply, Moshiach said, Do you think that these men of the Galil were greater chote’im (sinners) than all others of the Galil, because they suffered this shud (misfortune)?
3 Lo (no), I say, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.
4 Or do you think that those shmonah asar (eighteen) upon whom the migdal (tower) in Shiloach fell and killed them, do you think that they were greater chote’im (sinners) than all the Bnei Adam living in Yerushalayim?
5 Lo (no), I tell you, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.
6 And Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach was speaking this mashal. A certain man had an etz te’enah (fig tree) which had been planted in his kerem, and he came seeking pri (fruit) on it, and he did not find any. [YESHAYAH 5:2; YIRMEYAH 8:13]
7 So he said to the keeper of the kerem, Hinei shalosh shanim (three years) I come seeking pri on this etz te’enah (fig tree) and I do not find any. Therefore, cut it down! Why is it even using up the adamah (ground)?
8 But in reply he says to him, Adoni, leave it also this year, until I may dig around it and may throw fertilizer [dung] on it,
9 And if indeed it produces pri in the future, tov me’od (very well); otherwise, you will cut down it [Ro 11:23].
The “mashal” (a familiar proverb or parable) he re-interprets is already part of his and his hearers’ self-understanding from Yeshayah (Isaiah) 5:2; Yirmeyah (Jeremiah) 8:13.
Reading the text in a form much closer to the original context of Jesus’ linguistic-religious-cultural-political-economic context serves to awaken me to hear it with new ears.
Jesus is speaking about collective social life – politics, economics, religion, resistance, keeping the faith. He is calling for thorough-going societal transformation – from blaming others (the Galileans) to looking in the mirror to be startled by the log that is in one’s own eye, individually and collectively: the underlying violence in our way of being in the world, taking up “ground” on this beautiful planet.
In Hebrew Scripture the human species, Adam, is derived from Adamah – earth, soil, dirt, ground. We, the fig tree, are here to produce sweet figs.
The Owner of the vineyard with the barren fig tree shows two traits in this Mashal: disappointment and frustration (“Why is it even using up the ground?”) and the extraordinary patience that allows it more time to produce the sweet fruit for which it was created.
As I look out to the world outside, and as I look in the mirror in the morning, I feel a tiny shiver of G-d’s frustration and long-suffering with the likes of us. I wonder what it will take before we see the reflection of ourselves and our way of the violence of terrorists. Are they any different from the rest of the people in the Galil, Yerushalayim, Chaska, or Washington, D.C.? When and how shall we make teshuvah?