Gospel Reading: Luke 13:1-9 (alternate reading for Year A: John 4:5-42)
1 There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? 3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." 6 And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, `Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' 8 And he answered him, `Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. 9 And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
Old Testament Reading: Exodus 3:1-8,13-15
1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the
priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came
to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a
bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not
consumed. 3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this
great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God
called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here
I am." 5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from
your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy
ground." 6 He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God
of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid
his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.13 Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.'" 15 God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, `The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
Meditation: What causes suffering or affliction and what
does God want to teach us through it? The people of Israel
suffered greatly under the oppressive rule of Egypt for more than
400 years. Did they suffer unjustly or was God angry with them?
God was faithful to his people Israel even in the midst of their
affliction and ill treatment by their Egyptian taskmaster. God in
his mercy did not forget them nor forsake them. Throughout their
long history of exile and suffering God made them strong and they
grew in number. God listened to their plea for mercy and freedom.
And God raised up a savior for them, called Moses, whom he taught
and tested in the wilderness until he was ready to hear and obey
The fire of God's purifying love and deliverance
When Moses came near the mountain of God at Horeb (which is also named Sinai), God made his presence and will known to Moses through an extraordinary sign - a bush inflamed with a fierce fire that did not harm or destroy the bush. This burning bush was a sign of God's presence and power to save his people from destruction. The fire of God's presence always demonstrates his purifying love and mercy that burns away sin and refashions us in his holiness and righteousness (moral goodness). Just as gold is tested through fire, God tests and purifies his people and fills them with the fire of his love and holiness.
The second incident which Jesus addressed was a natural disaster, a tower in Jerusalem which unexpectedly collapsed, killing 18 people. The Jews often associated such calamities and disasters as a consequence of sin. Scripture does warn that sin can result in calamity! Though the righteous fall seven times, and rise again; the wicked are overthrown by calamity (Proverbs 24:16).
The time for repentance and forgiveness is right now!
The real danger and calamity which Jesus points out is that an unexpected disaster or a sudden death does not give us time to repent of our sins and to prepare ourselves to meet the Judge of heaven and earth. The Book of Job reminds us that misfortune and calamity can befall both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Jesus gives a clear warning - take responsibility for your actions and moral choices and put sin to death today before it can destroy your heart, mind, soul, and body as well. Unrepentant sin is like a cancer which corrupts us from within. If it is not eliminated through repentance - asking God for forgiveness and for his healing grace - it leads to a spiritual death which is far worse than physical destruction.
The sign of the barren fig tree
Jesus' parable of the barren fig tree illustrates his warning about the consequences of allowing sin and corruption to take root in our hearts and minds. Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the people of Palestine. A fig tree normally matured within three years, producing plentiful fruit. If it failed, it was cut down to make room for more healthy trees. A decaying fig tree and its bad fruit came to symbolize for the Jews the consequence of spiritual corruption caused by evil deeds and unrepentant sin.
The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel's indifference and lack of response to God's word of repentance and restoration. The prophets depicted the desolation and calamity of Israel's fall and ruin - due to her unfaithfulness to God - as a languishing fig tree (see Joel 1:7,12; Habbakuk 3:17; and Jeremiah 8:13). Jeremiah likened good and evil rulers and members of Israel with figs that were either good for eating or rotten and wasteful (Jeremiah 24:2-8). Jesus' parable depicts the patience of God, but it also contains a warning that we should not presume upon God's patience and mercy. God's judgment will come in due course - very soon or later.
Why God judges
Why does God judge his people? He judges to purify and cleanse us of all sin that we might grow in his holiness and righteousness. And he disciplines us for our own good, to inspire a godly fear and reverence for him and his word. God is patient, but for those who persistently and stubbornly rebel against him and refuse to repent and change their course, there is the consequence that they will lose both their soul and body to hell. Are God's judgments unjust or unloving? When God's judgments are revealed in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9). To pronounce God's judgment on sin is much less harsh than what will happen if those who sin are not warned to repent and turn back to God.
Don't tolerate sin
God, in his mercy, gives us time to get right with him, but that time is now. We must not assume that there is no hurry. A sudden and unexpected death leaves one no time to prepare to settle one's accounts when he or she must stand before the Lord on the day of judgment. Jesus warns us that we must be ready at all times. Tolerating sinful habits and excusing unrepentant sin and wrongdoing will result in bad fruit, painful discipline, and spiritual disease that leads to death and destruction. The Lord in his mercy gives us both grace (his gracious help and healing) and time to turn away from sin, but that time is right now. If we delay, even for a day, we may discover that grace has passed us by and our time is up. Do you hunger for the Lord's righteousness (moral goodness) and holiness?
"Lord Jesus, increase my hunger for you that I may grow in righteousness and holiness. May I not squander the grace of the present moment to say "yes" to you and to your will and plan for my life."
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that
is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him
Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The Lord's three visits through the Patriarchs, Prophets, and the Gospel, by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D."The Lord also has something very fitting to say about a fruitless tree, 'Look, it is now three years that I have been coming to it. Finding no fruit on it, I will cut it down, to stop it blocking up my field.' The gardener intercedes... This tree is the human race. The Lord visited this tree in the time of the patriarchs, as if for the first year. He visited it in the time of the law and the prophets, as if for the second year. Here we are now; with the gospel the third year has dawned. Now it is as though it should have been cut down, but the merciful one intercedes with the merciful one. He wanted to show how merciful he was, and so he stood up to himself with a plea for mercy. 'Let us leave it,' he says, 'this year too. Let us dig a ditch around it.' Manure is a sign of humility. 'Let us apply a load of manure; perhaps it may bear fruit.' Since it does bear fruit in one part, and in another part does not bear fruit, its Lord will come and divide it. What does that mean, 'divide it'? There are good people and bad people now in one company, as though constituting one body." (excerpt from Sermon 254.3)
Scripture quotations from
Common Bible: Revised Standard Version
of the Bible, copyright 1973, and
Ignatius Edition of the Revised
Standard Version of the Bible,
copyright 2006, by the Division of
Christian Education of the National
Council of the Churches of Christ in
the United States of America. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.
Citation references for quotes from
the writings of the early church
fathers can be found here.
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