Reading: Luke 21.29-33
Jesus told his disciples a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’
Throughout the gospel narrative Jesus speaks of the nature of God’s kingdom. The Pharisees and all the other so-called experts in religious law and practice had, down the centuries, created a system that was meant to draw humanity into a closer relationship with God. Whatever the roots of the Jewish law, down the centuries it became distorted. The irresistible need that human beings have to be ‘in control’ overtook the fundamentals of God’s law. Rather than being rooted in the needs of others, the Jewish law that Jesus encountered was focused very firmly on ‘self’ rather than ‘other’. As we have read throughout recent weeks, Jesus was constantly highlighting the shortcomings of the Pharisees and the scribes, even to the point of calling them hypocrites.
The word ‘hypocrite’ is an interesting word for Jesus to have used. In its origins in ancient Greek it is the word used for ‘actor’. By calling the Pharisees and the scribes ‘hypocrites’ Jesus was accusing them of pretending to be faithful to God. He was suggesting that their religious practices were a façade, a show put on to impress others, a routine they had rehearsed and perfected to intimidate those they deemed to be inferior to themselves.
Yesterday, we read of Jesus speaking of the signs and portents that will herald in the coming of God’s kingdom. Today’s reading offers us the same message, but in simpler terms. Around Jerusalem there are many fig trees growing. All who heard Jesus speak would have understood the life-cycle of the fig tree. Because of the stability of the climate they would have known how the different stages in the growth of all trees would have been a reliable indication of time and season. They would also have understood that at the end of the cycle there would have been a rich and sustaining fruit.
Jesus does not want his followers to misunderstand the importance of his message. He talked of the bigger picture involving the sun, moon and stars, as well as the strife between nations and the raging of the seas. Today he brings the same message to the confines of our own homes. Today Jesus wants us to join up the dots of his message to humanity. Jesus is calling us to stop following the practices and routines of the Pharisees and the scribes, that is to stop being actors or hypocrites. Today Jesus wants us to repent, to turn from our all too human ways, and to really dedicate ourselves to a life of true and faithful discipleship so that we might, in due time, stand before God and testify to how we spread the Good News and the light of Christ in this world.