(Adults, you could begin by reading the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
The Gospel for this Sunday mentions two tragic events in which people died. The crowd of people wonders if those who died were very bad sinners. Perhaps they think that these terrible deaths are some kind of punishment from God. What does Jesus think?
“No, I tell you...No, I tell you”
The crowd of people have been feeling pretty good about themselves. They have been thinking that they are better than the people who died. But twice, Jesus says, no—God does not send death as a punishment for sin. God is the God of Life. Were those who died sinners? Yes, everyone sins sometimes. Were they the very worst sinners of all? Twice, Jesus says, no.
The crowd of people had been happy to think that they are not sinners because they are not dead! But Jesus knows that everyone sins. He says,
“unless you repent, you will all perish as they did...unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Again he repeats himself. Twice, Jesus says, "unless you repent." What does he mean? He is changing the conversation. Jesus is turning their attention away from the people who have died. He does not want them thinking they are better than everyone else. He does not want them comparing themselves to others. He wants them to turn around and look inwards—to take a good look at themselves. Everyone needs some change. Everyone needs to repent.
The people, though, do not know what he means by "repent." So Jesus tells this parable:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Hmm...what can Jesus mean?
We can imagine the poor little fig tree growing in the vineyard. Perhaps it thought it had been growing just fine. It really had nothing to compare itself to. Vineyards grow grapes. The fig tree could judge whether the grapevines were growing well. It could see their fruit. Perhaps it spent a lot of time judging the grapevines around it. A fig tree, though, does not grow grapes, so how was it supposed to know whether it was growing well or not??
We wonder if it had been paying attention at all to the owner of the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard had chosen to plant the fig tree. The owner had come looking for fruit for a long time. Was the fig tree not glad to see the owner each time he came looking? Did it not want to give the owner tasty fruit?
What a shock it must be for the fig tree to hear the conversation between the owner and the gardener! What?! Cut me down? Wasting the soil? The fig tree had had no idea. It had not spent any time looking inwards, considering whether it had any fruit.
What a relief, then, to hear the gardener say he would help! How good it feels to know the gardener loves it and wants it to grow well! What a joy to feel air around its roots, to suck up nutrients from the soil made good and rich by the manure! Now it can grow beautiful, tasty fruit for the gardener! How it will delight in seeing the juices run down the owner's smiling face!
We wonder what the crowd thinks of this parable. Do they wonder who the fig tree is? Do they wonder who the gardener is? They can see that the gardener is good. He cares for the fig tree. If they were to draw a picture of the fig tree before the gardener helps, what would it look like? What would it look like after the gardener helps? In Lent, we can wonder these things with the crowd.