Third Sunday in Lent, March 20
Reader: “I tell you again that unless you repent,”
Response: “you will perish, too.”
Scripture: Luke 13:1-9
About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’
“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
In Jesus’ day it was a common belief that when something bad happened to a person it was caused by some bad behavior by that person and, conversely, good things happen when the person does good things! Jesus addresses that erroneous belief in this passage. Pilate was a hated evil ruler who had recently gained notoriety by his murdering some Galileans as they worshiped in the Temple. Jesus cited a contemporary intentional evil act toward someone doing good (worshiping) and a random accident which also killed people to clarify the truth that all people need to repent of their sin. What was the connection? The people logically thought: those people deserved what they got since they must have done something wrong and God was punishing them. Conversely, “since nothing bad has befallen me, I must be OK with God and there is nothing of which I need to repent.” Jesus’ point was that when bad things happen to people, whether intentional or accidental, such are not indicators of one’s spiritual purity before God. Jesus is reminding the people that all people sin and need to live a life of repentance. Had the Galileans or the people by the wall known what was coming, they could have saved themselves. Jesus is giving that warning to the people about what is coming if they refuse to heed his words, repent, and believe in the kingdom of God.
We need to get rid of that whisper of the devil which tells us even today that “God will get even with you for messing up. That’s the way God is. He’s vengeful.” The devil’s goal is to distort the character of God into being a Deity of revenge. This kind of thinking reminds us of Job’s friend’s erroneous council! The truth is all people are sinners and need to repent of their sin. Bad things are not always a result of bad behavior. We live in a fallen world, temporarily ruled by the devil and sin. The important thing is to live in a life of repentance and humbling of one’s self before God. The “perishing” of the unrepentant person Jesus speaks of refers to an eternal death while repentance and trusting in God leads to eternal life.
We have two avocado trees. This year one tree had between 180-200 avocados! Our neighborhood was well supplied with free fruit. The other tree had exactly one avocado, same as last year! I’m curious what will happen this coming year. This year I fertilized and pruned them both again just like last year. We’re giving it another chance! It’s our “Israel!” The rebellious nation of Israel was often portrayed as an unfruitful fig tree or a vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7, Micah 7:1, John 15:1-8) The word “garden” above can actually be translated “vineyard” making Jesus’ point doubly clear. He is warning the people that judgment is coming as represented by the cutting down of the fig tree. The bottom line is his urging the people to repent of their sins and believe in him. In the illustration, God’s grace is extended a year beyond the owner’s three years, but it is not infinite toward the unrepentant. A moment of judgment does come without mercy. Repent while it is today. Now is the day of salvation.
I can’t help but think our world is living in that year of grace, but judgment is most certainly coming to the unrepentant. Let us live with repentant hearts as citizens of another world and produce fruit while we live in this one. God’s mercy and grace is infinite towards those who live a life of repentance.
Music: “Agnus Dei” Samuel Barber Vlaams Radiokoor
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
O Lord, bend my hands and cut them off, for I have often struck thee with a wayward will, when these fingers should embrace thee by faith. I am not yet weaned from all created glory, honor, wisdom, and esteem of others, for I have a secret motif to eye my name in all I do. Let me not only speak the word sin, but see the thing itself. Give me to view a discovered sinfulness, to know that though my sins are crucified they are never wholly mortified. Hatred, malice, ill-will, vain-glory that hungers for and hunts after man’s approval and applause, all are crucified, forgiven, but they rise again in my sinful heart. O my crucified but never wholly mortified sinfulness! O my life-long damage and daily shame! O my indwelling and besetting sins! O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart! Destroy, O God, the dark guest within whose hidden presence makes my life a hell. Yet thou hast not left me here without grace. The cross still stands and meets my needs in the deepest straits of the soul. I thank thee that my remembrance of it is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword which preached forth thy deliverance. The memory of my great sins, my many temptations, my falls, bring afresh into my mind the remembrance of thy great help, of thy support from heaven, of the great grace that saved such a wretch as I am. There is no treasure so wonderful as that continuous experience of thy grace toward me which alone can subdue the risings of sin within: Give me more of it. Amen.―from Valley of Vision, “The Dark Guest,” p.71