The Gospel of Luke: a commentary & meditation 
Suffering and Sin

Scripture:  Luke 13:1-9

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 Silo'am 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.'"

Meditation: What can political calamity and natural disaster teach us about God's kingdom and the consequences of our actions and decisions?  Jesus addressed two such incidences with his Jewish audience.  Pilate, the Roman governor, perpetrated the unspeakable crime of butchering Jews in their temple, thus profaning their act of worship and incurring the wrath of God.  In a similar fashion, King Henry II of England incited his knights to murder the archbishop Thomas a Becket in his cathedral on December 29, 1170.  Who wouldn't be outraged at such acts of political barbarity and sacrilege?  The other incident was a natural disaster, not linked with any particular political or religious motive.  The Jews associated such disasters with sin. Scripture warns that sin can result in calamity!  Though the righteous fall seven times, and rise again; the wicked are overthrown by calamity (Prov. 24:16).  But the Book of Job also tells us that misfortune can befall the righteous as well as the unrighteous.

Why does Jesus link a political-religious calamity with a natural disaster?  Jesus intended these incidences to serve as signs helping us to avert worst disaster by preparing spiritually for the age to come.  How does God's judgment relate to these signs?  Just as natural signs point to what is happening today, so God gives us signs which indicate his action and intervention in our lives, our churches, and in the world.  Why does God judge?  He judges to purify and cleanse us that we might grow in his holiness and righteousness, and to removes those who stubbornly rebel against him.  He also judges his people to chastise and discipline us and to inspire a godly fear and reverence for him and his word.  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.
What can barren fig trees tell us about the kingdom of God? Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the Jews. Bad figs or a decaying fig tree was linked with evil deeds and spiritual decay. The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel's unresponsiveness to the word of God. The prophets depicted the languishing fig tree as signifying the desolation and calamity of Israel due to her unfaithfulness to God (see Joel 1:7,12; Habakuk 3:17; and Jeremiah 8:13). Jeremiah said that evil people are like rotten figs (Jeremiah 24:2-8). This parable of Jesus depicts the patience of God, but it also contains a warning that we should not presume upon it. God 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 will result in bad fruit and eventual destruction. The Lord in his mercy gives us both grace and time to turn away from sin and from worldliness, 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 and holiness?

"Lord, increase my hunger for your righteousness and holiness. May I not squander the grace of the present moment to say "yes" to you, to your will, and to your way of holiness."

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 (c) 1999 Don Schwager