Luke 13:1–9
Gluttony vs. temperance
Sloth vs. diligence
It may seem like a bit of a stretch to tie the gospel reading for this weekend with the two capitals sins we are going to talk about, but then again…
At the close of this reading today, Jesus focuses our attention on the unproductive fig tree. But before I get into the comparisons for this weekend, I want a quick look at the first part of the gospel. What Jesus is saying is that we are not to believe that tragedies are necessarily evidence of sin. Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the wisdom books, we hear of the contrast between good people and bad people. Some of the writing questions why the bad people so often seem to flourish.
Jesus is saying, very simply, that we will be judged on what we do, and not on what happens around us.
So, we turn now to the two capitals sins for this weekend: gluttony and sloth. As I said, it may seem a bit of a stretch to apply these to the unproductive fig tree, but yet, the fig tree was taking up the nutrients of the ground, and not producing anything.
Gluttony is a consuming sin that looks after only what the person wants. Not caring about whether or not what is being consumed is helping anyone else. The virtue that counters gluttony is called temperance. The virtue of temperance is that we only take and use what we need. The fig tree was not using what it was being given, namely the nutrients from the soil.
As regards our own usage of the things around us, can we say that we are only using what we need? Or are we more consumers than producers? This is why temperance helps overcome gluttony. What do we minimally need in our lives? And how are we failing to share with others the gifts that God has given.
As for a different tree’s example of intemperance, or gluttony, think about how an evergreen tree will not let grass grow beneath it. It poisons the ground when it drops its needles so that grass cannot grow. So what does gluttony do to us and those around us? Remember, it is not necessarily only about food!
Looking at the other capital sin for this weekend, sloth is the way in which the tree was acting by not living up to its expectations of producing fruit. The groundskeeper, who in our example is best described as the Holy Spirit, is diligent – which is the virtue opposite to sloth – in trying to fertilize the tree to make it productive. The Holy Spirit works on each one of us, trying to get us to the place where we will be productive for the kingdom of God.
But hear what the Holy Spirit, or the groundskeeper, says to the master: if it does not produce fruit, let us cut it down. This is the warning to all of us that we have to be diligent in being fruitful – or useful – to the kingdom of God. If we are gluttonous, or slothful, we cannot become the instruments of sharing the gospel with the world around us.
God will look at this and cut us off, not during our life here, but in eternity. If we are too focused on the things of this life, whether it be food, which is the normal focus of gluttony, or other material things that draw our attention away from God, we are bound to be slothful.
If, on the other hand, we use only what we need – we are temperate and not gluttonous – it makes it easier for us to also be diligent in pursuing the works of God in our lives. It is an issue of being fully engaged in the life that Christ calls us to. Is your life proving to be fruitful – for the kingdom?