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03.20.2022 Third Sunday of Lent

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

Harold Copping was a British Artist best known as an illustrator of Biblical scenes.

Copping had links with the missionary societies of his time and was commissioned by the London Missionary Society to produce illustrations for the Bible.

To achieve authenticity for his illustrations

he travelled extensively in Palestine and Egypt.

The resulting book, The Copping Bible (1910),

was a best-seller and led to more Bible commissions.

This included A Journalist in the Holy Land (1911), The Golden Land (1911),

The Bible Story Book (1923) and My Bible Book (1931).

Copping’s illustrations were widely reproduced by missionary societies

for posters, tracts and magazine illustrations.

Harold Copping, who lived in Shoreham and Sevenoaks, died in 1932.


Luke 13: 1-9

1“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’. 6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’8 ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’”.



Jesus continues in his mission to bring the Good News to all but continues to find that his preaching does not find favour with the Jewish people, who cannot accept him as He does not meet their expectations of the awaited Messiah. In this reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls for reform and repentance while there is still time.

Suffering and Sin

Jesus makes reference to two disasters: the murder of Galileans by Roman soldiers, while they were making religious sacrifice and the deaths of eighteen Jews caused by the collapse of the Tower at Siloam.

Jesus spoke firstly about the disaster of Pilate’s soldiers murdering of a number of Galileans, in the middle of their offering sacrifices. Not much seems to be known with any certainty about either incident, but it seems that, in relation to the first, Pilate had made it known that he intended to create a new, improved and much needed water supply, to be financed by certain monies of the Temple.

Notwithstanding the obvious benefits of the project, the Jews were up in arms about the idea of spending Temple funds like that and they gathered as a mob. Pilate instructed the Roman soldiers to disguise their uniforms and to mingle with and disperse the crowds. The soldiers ignored their instruction to carry cudgels rather than swords and dealt violently with the mob far beyond their instructions, and a considerable number were killed. Almost certainly, Galilean pilgrims would have been involved in this.

As for the eighteen on whom the Tower in Siloam fell, it has been suggested that they had accepted paid work on Pilate’s hated aqueducts, money to which they had no right and which should have been handed back to God, as the Romans had already “stolen” the asset. Popular talk may well have concluded that their deaths were seen as a punishment for their actions.

The Jews rigidly connected sin and suffering. Eliphaz had long ago said to Job “Who that was innocent ever perished?”[1] Jesus utterly rejected this doctrine in the case of individuals. As we know, it is often the greatest saints who have had to suffer most.

But Jesus asked the crowd if they thought that the victims of these two tragedies were any more sinners than the rest of Jerusalem. He declared that if those who were listening to him did not repent, they too would perish. What did He mean by that? Jesus foresaw and foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70[2]. He knew well that if the Jewish nation continued with their intrigues, rebellions, their plots and political ambitions, they would, in effect, commit suicide as a nation. Rome would step in and obliterate them, which is precisely what happened. He was warning them that if the Jewish nation continued to seek an earthly kingdom and to reject the kingdom of God, they could come to only one end.

And so, something of a paradox ensues. It cannot be said that individual suffering and sin are connected; but Jesus talks about a nation which rebels against God and chooses the wrong way being destined to suffer in the end. But what of the individual caught up in the acts of his nation, acts to which he may well violently object? These must be the most testing of circumstances for individuals. History provides us with abundant examples of people who, at risk to life and family safety, stood up against regimes they did not support. Even today, we see clear examples of Russians protesting against the Russian regime’s acts of war on the Ukraine. We pray for them.

The Parable of the Fig Tree

This is a parable that is both full of grace while weighed down by warnings. Here we have a fig tree, taking up a significant amount of space in a vineyard, yet producing no fruit. What is the owner to do?

One lesson of this parable is that uselessness will attract trouble. What is useful will go on from strength to strength, while that which is useless will be eliminated. A searching question we can ask ourselves is “What use have I been in the world?” For those who are unhappy with their response, please God, there is still time to change.

The fig tree was only surviving by drawing strength and sustenance from the soil and in return was producing nothing. That was precisely its sin. Nothing which only takes out can survive. In the last analysis, there are two kinds of people in this world those who take out more than they put in and those who put in more than they take out. We came into life at the possible peril of those who gave birth to us; then survived because of the care others took of us, out of love. We have inherited a Christian civilisation and a freedom created by others. Surely there is a duty on us to care for our inheritance and pass it on in a better position than when we came to it. If we accept that as a fair commitment, then we will fulfil the obligation to put into life at least as much as we take out.

This Parable is also the lesson of the second chance. A fig tree would normally take three years to reach maturity, then it would bear fruit. But this fig tree had had the benefit of that time - as the Jewish people had had three years of Jesus’ ministry- but no fruit had been borne. And so, the owner of the vineyard instructed its keeper, to cut it down to make room for something more worthwhile. But the keeper asked that it might have another year to prove itself. He would take particular care of it, digging around it and fertilising it; doing all that he could do to give it another chance.

It was always Jesus’ way to give a man chance after chance as Peter, Paul and Mark would have attested. There are many examples of God’s infinite kindness to those who have fallen but rise again.

But the parable also provides a warning that there will be, at some point, a final chance.

If we fail to accept our chance, time after time and God’s offer of forgiveness comes again and again in vain, the day must finally come when we are shut out of God’s salvation; not by him, but by our own choices in not opening the door to him. Only we ourselves can stop that from happening.

Repent while there is still time

In the Old Testament, the words used for “repent” indicate a “turning”, a “seeking” or “restoring”. The Greek writers of the New Testament use the word “metanoia”, which literally means “to change the mind.” In this way, repentance fundamentally means to change your mind about something; it has to do with the way you think about something. You’ve been thinking one way, but now you think differently. You have changed your mind.

The language of the Old Testament reflects deep emotion which leads to action, whereas the language of the New Testament is an action or decision. True repentance requires both a change of mind and a change of action, leading us to an abiding devotion to God. Lent is the perfect time for us to consider the meaning of repentance and our response to God’s call.


Both events referred to in the first passage of this reading encourage us to recognise that nothing has changed from the time of Jesus until now. There is no implication by Jesus that the victims in either event did anything wrong to cause their demise. Life is unpredictable and Jesus emphasis the suddenness with which death can come. What better reason for us to seize on God’s graciousness now, an overwhelming graciousness, as we see in another chance being given to the fig tree in the second passage.


“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, and sisters,

in view of God’s mercy,

to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,

holy and pleasing to God

—this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform yourselves to this age,

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is

—his good, pleasing and perfect will”.

Saint Paul to the Romans 12: 1-2


We live in an uncertain world; how do we cope with that?

Do we feel anger towards those who create uncertainty and evil- can we forgive?

Do we feel anger towards God for allowing bad things to happen?

Can we accept that we do not know everything about God’s plan for the world?

Do we find comfort in our faith, in hope that we will understand better one day?

If not for God … ??

Society’s acts which affect us

How do we feel when society or government acts in a way to which we morally


Do we resent it, but accept it?

How far should we go to protest against it?

Do we find ways to mitigate its effects on those in need?

One more chance

Do we think on a regular basis that we might be living within our last chance?

What would we do differently if we knew that we were?

How can we express our thanks to God for the chances He has given us?


How would we define our own understanding of repentance?

Is there a desire for a change, occasioned by Lent? What might that be?

Is there more than we could derive from the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

What is the effect of repentance in our daily Christian life?


[1] Job 4: 7 [2] Luke 21:21-24

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