"Cut it down." Lk 13:9
Jesus often uses images from nature to help his disciples understand his message. This is no accident. Because most of his disciples were illiterate, he could not urge them to read the Torah more carefully, but being illiterate did not mean they were unintelligent. Rather, they came from a class of people who had no access to education. In fact, they may have been brilliant in ways we could never imagine, but because they were illiterate, Jesus would have had to use stories, songs, and images from their everyday lives to help his followers grasp the content and power of the good news.
There is a powerful lesson in this for me. When I first began to teach college age friars many of them were Franco Americans from New England. Because they had been raised in bilingual homes they spoke both French and English, but many never learned to write either language well. Judgmental and somewhat arrogant, I thought that these men were slower intellectually than their classmates from the New York area, and at times I did not even want accept their questions in the classroom. Only after I had been teaching a while did I discover the great intellectual skills some of them had. As these men slowly began to write better I was able to let go of my prejudices and honor their insights and knowledge about the Second Vatican Council especially.
How wrong I had been about my younger brothers! And how wrong some on the Rabbis were who judged the first disciples harshly. No wonder Jesus talked about cutting down the fig tree that was not bearing fruit. Too many in the Jewish community of his day were locked into a narrow interpretation of the Torah (the law and prophets) and were unable to learn from the wisdom Jesus embodied and proclaimed. Even sadder, they dismissed Jesus' disciples as poor fisherman who knew nothing about the law or the prophets. At the very least, the Jews who refused to look beyond their own artificial boundaries needed to be pruned in order to let go of branches that were unproductive and were sucking the life out of the fig tree.
Today, ask yourself about your own prejudices. Do you dismiss people because they speak poorly, dress poorly or are not good conversationalists? Do you not listen to others because you have judged them for their lack of education?