The Text: Luke 13:1-5
There is no doubt Jesus drew a crowd. At the beginning of Luke 12, we are told a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another. Sounds crazy doesn’t it. Just like reporters asking questions of a presenter, the crowd asks Jesus all sorts of questions for Jesus to answer or comment on. In this Gospel reading for today, there were some present who sought Jesus’ opinion on Pilate sending his soldiers to kill Galileans while they were offering sacrifices. Jesus’ response is: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you No. Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Jesus reminds them of a tower collapse in Siloam that killed eighteen people, asking: “Do you think they were more guilty, than all the others living in Jerusalem?” It was around 20 years since terrorists took control of four aircraft. Two of them flew them into the twin towers in New York. In total, 2,977 people died that day.
We could easily hear Jesus say: “Those people on those four American airlines, those people who were killed in the twin towers, were they more guilty, than all the others who lived in New York? Were they more guilty than us that they deserved to perish on the 11th of September 2001?” In his speech to the nation, the then-American President, Bush said “Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.
Another more recent event is when a gunman entered mosques in Christ Church New Zealand and killed 51 people and left 40 injured. What entered the minds of these people, that made them think that these people deserved to die? In all these deaths at the mercy of evil minds, the evil mind of Pilate, the evil mind of the terrorists involved in the collapse of the twin towers, the evil mind of Brenton Tarrant which resulted in the deaths of people who were simply going about their business, when suddenly and brutally they were killed.
While there are deaths because of the evil intent of others, Jesus also refers to the accidental death of those killed because accidents, such as a tower collapse. We hear many news items like that don’t we? People were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wonder how many times we have been close to death without realizing it. When a branch dropped from a tree and we weren’t under it. When we have looked up and noticed a power line and made sure we kept machinery clear. When we have walked away from an accident while others have been killed.
Did they die because they were worse sinners than us? What is Jesus’ response? I tell you NO. But rest assured that unless you repent, you will die just as they did.” Can you imagine how tragic that would be? To die without repenting of the sin that holds us captive which could cause us to perish and be forever removed from the one who can save us from our sin. Because when we die, that is it. There is no returning to this life to try and change our ways.
Yet our Gospel reading reveals we have a God who is patient. Jesus says, “Listen, there was a man who planted a fig tree. Three years passed by, and the man is looking forward to the taste of a ripe fig. But he sees that the fig tree still hasn’t produced any fruit. He calls to his gardener, ‘Why is this tree still here? It’s taking up soil and moisture and everything else. Cut it down, right now.’”
But the gardener pleads “Leave it alone for one more year”, “and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year fine! If not, then cut it down.” Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson in horticulture, but is talking about God’s judgement on sin.
Rather than be impatient, dig up and disperse of a person immediately because they have sinned, God sent Jesus to proclaim love and mercy to the world through his sacrificial love for us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Just as Jesus keeps on being patient with us and forgiving us, he gives us another chance to bear the fruit of love and mercy in our lives.
Today Jesus is telling us to turn away from our sin, repent or we will die. The thing is though, we can’t do it on our own. It would be like the fig tree saying, “Leave me alone! I can bear fruit next year. I’ll just try a bit harder. In Jesus’ story, the tree does nothing. It is the gardener who puts in the effort to change the fig tree to something that will please the owner. Only then is the tree able to produce fruit.
So, Jesus says to God on our behalf, I have died for this person. Don’t give up on them yet. Let’s give the Holy Spirit time to dig around at the roots of their thoughts and values. Give the Holy Spirit time to fertilise the foundation of their existence with the things that will produce the fruits of the Spirit. Give them another chance to repent from old ways and produce the fruit of faith.
This is what Jesus does for all of us. He becomes the fertiliser for us as he is rejected, laughed at, crucified as a criminal. On the Cross, nails and spear dig into him. His blood was spilt for us to grow and be nurtured by his tender love and care for us to bear the fruit of faith. He is the One who was taken down and buried in a tomb. But he rose again on the third day that we may have life in him. He does everything.
Like gardener with the fig tree, Jesus gives us second chances, third chances and even more. It is all thanks to God’s patient grace in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit nourishing us, nurturing us so that we do produce the fruits that Jesus desires in us. All done for us so that we can be assured that we will not be cut down on the day of judgement but will stand safe and secure because of what Jesus did for us.
So, how does Jesus end his story about the fig tree and the gardener who applied the manure and dug around the tree? Did the tree bear fruit? How did the fruit tree respond to the gardener’s careful attention? We aren’t told. Jesus leaves the story open-ended.
There is good reason for this because it draws us into the story.
“How have we responded to the generous application of God’s grace?
How have we responded to the care and love that Jesus has shown for us when he gave his life on the Cross so that we might have life?
How has God’s grace worked in us to the point of bearing good fruit?”
How have we responded to one chance after another to respond to God’s Word, to repent and believe, to bear the fruit of the Christian life?
While we have life in this world, we have time. Time to not worry about the reports of what is going on around us and speculating how Jesus might respond to that crisis, but time to respond to our relationship with Jesus. After all he is the one who gives us life. Amen.