Fr. DJ Garcia, CJM
Why is there suffering in the world? Why do bad things happen to good or innocent people? Are calamities and our sufferings a form of punishment from God? What have I done to deserve this? These are difficult questions we tend to ask as we try to make sense of the tragedy or suffering we face, whether on a personal or societal level.
In the massacre of the Galilean pilgrims by Pilate, and the death of the eighteen brought about by the collapse of the tower of Siloam, Jesus implies that these victims did nothing wrong that caused their death. He emphatically said that these people were not “greater sinners” or “more guilty” to have their life end with no warning or clear reason. In effect Jesus is telling us, that calamities and sufferings are not forms of punishment for our sins. Good people suffer from bad things and the bad are beneficiaries of good things, and vice-versa. Our lives are precarious and at any instant it may be taken away. Life operates at a random of events, which does not necessarily mean that that the Providence of God does not provide.
As our sufferings are not God’s punishments for our sins, it does not necessarily mean that suffering and sin are entirely disconnected from each other. Sin has consequences and a lot of bad behaviors add to much of the afflictions in the world. Our sins can have disastrous effects on our lives and, as well as, on the lives of other people. This is likewise true for social sins. It becomes imperative then that we confront sin to ameliorate, if not eradicate the suffering it causes.
As tragedies and sufferings are part of the human existence, God uses these as wake-up calls to remind us that life is short and that at any time, without warning, it may be taken away from us. Thus, He invite us to repentance.
This leads us then to the parable of the fruitless fig tree which underscores God’s patience and mercy, as represented by the gardener who bargains with the landowner for a reprieve. This same God does not leave man on his own but he gives his grace so that he may bear fruit. This call to repentance is not simply a turning away from sin but a call to a renewal of the mind and heart by embracing the gospel values so that one may bear fruit. These fruits of repentance are a renewed life, expressed in good deeds and even in a changed perspective that sees life and reality as God does, and acts on them accordingly as God does.
We certainly don’t know how much time is left with what we were given, but let us recognize that our life is a gift, not to be squandered in sinful and self-indulgent pursuits, but in good works that build God’s kingdom here in our world.
May we allow Christ—the gardener— in his grace and mercy, prune and uproot us of the things that hinder us from bearing fruit.