Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mk. 1:15)
“It serves them right!” This is not a rare comment on victims of massacres and accidents. But Jesus does not react so.
On hearing of an act of cruelty, Jesus does not impugn the character of any of the victims. He does not pass a rash judgment. The Teacher takes the opportunity rather to underscore the need for repentance and to carry out his mission to call sinners. He reveals himself as the Son of the Almighty who swears, “As I live, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion, that he may live” (Ez. 33:11). He is like the Most High who “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
And immediately Jesus indicates that good fruits are evidence of repentance, as his precursor already taught. His parable teaches that God is patient with us sinners, not wishing anyone to perish (cf. 1 Pt. 3:9), but it also makes clear that we have to be fruitful sooner or later if we do not want to be cut down like an unfruitful fig tree.
Yes, on us the Lord is searching for fruit, for works of righteousness and charity (Lk. 3:9-14). We, too, are expected to atone for our sins by good deeds, and for our misdeeds by kindness to the poor, and to love one another deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins (Dn. 4:24; 1 Pt. 4:8). Our love for our brothers and sisters shows that we have turned back to God and renounced the devil, that we are not perishing, but we have passed rather from death to life (1 Jn. 3:10, 14). Hearing the cry of the poor, we reflect God, whose awesome and fascinating holiness becomes manifest as he reveals himself as the compassionate and merciful Liberator of the oppressed. To attend to the needy is an integral part of repentance that, however, is very difficult for those who disregard what has been written down as warning to us and who likewise reject the Risen from the dead (Lk. 16:30-31).
To accept Jesus is, in the end, what repentance means. And they feel they have no need for Jesus, those who are self-righteous, those who are absolutely certain of their practices and doctrines, those arrogant prophets who speak in God’s name oracles that he has not spoken (Dt. 18:20), those careerists who seek power and glory, and want to be served rather than to serve, those performers of righteous deeds out of vainglory, who will surely know nothing about “leaving God for God” and will prefer to be with their God in a comfortable chapel to assisting the poor at the door (P. Coste VII, 52; IX, 319; X, 95, 226, 541-542, 595).
But “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” For open to Jesus are the tax collectors and prostitutes who are entering the kingdom of God before those closed ones (Mt 21:31). Indeed, the insecure will bear much fruit and will be saved by remaining in Jesus, as branches on the vine; without him, they can do nothing and will be in danger of withering and being gathered later and throw into a fire (Jn. 15:5-6). Thanks, then, to the one, of whom it cannot be said, “It serves him right,” yet chose it for himself, perishing to ransom us wretches who truly deserve it.