1 There were some present at that very time who told him about 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 in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; 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, ‘Look, for three years now 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, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
So. Did you have a good week? Everything go well for you or, at least, mostly well? Did your house keep you warm and sheltered? Did your kids stay mostly healthy? Did you get enough to eat? Did you keep your job? Good!
How are you going to spend your afternoon? A little nap? Maybe relax a little and read a few more chapters in your book? Do a little cleaning up around the house and pay some bills? Go and buy your groceries for the week? Get that last bit of homework done before your Monday morning class? Sure.
What do you have planned for this coming week? Same old, same old? Keep the house fairly clean? Grind out another week of work? Get the kids to their activities? Visit some friends or family? Sounds nice.
Life goes on, and it is fairly comfortable. Some rough patches pop up here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary. We sit down to eat and drink and rise up to play (1 Cor. 10:7). We come each week to church, go through the liturgy, hear the Word, listen to the sermon, and think God that is mostly pleased with us. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done” (Ecc. 1:9). We just continue on with our normal, mundane routine.
But beware. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). You do not know what this week will bring. You could get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Maybe, you will be hit by a drunk driver. You do not know what will happen even while I am speaking this sentence. A gunman could come in here and shoot us all dead. This fallen world is a lethally dangerous place for sinners, that means you and me. Because of our sin, our life is dangerous, our existence perilous. Your lives should be filled with constant repentance.
Some people come up to Jesus and speak about a national outrage. “Hey, Jesus. While some Galileans were offering their Passover sacrifices, Pilate sent soldiers into the Temple where they were not allowed, and they slaughtered those poor souls.” To get a sense of how outrageous this: Imagine approaching this altar to receive Holy Communion, and the National Guard comes in here by order of the governor, and guns a bunch of us down. Despicable! Ghastly! Horrid!
“Hey, Jesus. Have You heard about how evil Pilate is? We need to take action. We need to protest! We need to occupy Pilate’s residence! We need to start a group – Galilean Lives Matter!”
But Jesus doesn’t condemn Pilate. He doesn’t say, “Yes, it is tragic. Pray for survivors. This violence has to end.” He says nothing of the sort. Neither does Jesus say something trite, “Where God closes a door, He opens a window.” Or, “Some things we don’t understand now, but we will later.” No!
Instead, Jesus says, “Do you think that those who were killed were worse sinners than everyone else because they died like this?”
No, they were not worse sinners. But when you see evil, when you see injustice, when you see ruthlessness, don’t seek revenge. Don’t take things into your own hands. Don’t even ask, “Why did this happen?” Instead, Jesus uses this wicked deed by a ruthless governor to remind us all to repent. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
And Jesus takes it a step further. “Hey, remember those eighteen people who were crushed when the tower fell in Siloam? Do you think they were more sinful than the people who weren’t crushed and buried by the rubble? Did karma catch up with them? Nope, no sir. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus uses both of these things – the wickedness of a political authority and a tragic “act of God” – to remind us to live as repentant people. All tragedies and all acts of violence should remind us that we are sinners who deserve nothing good. God doesn’t owe us peace or long, healthy lives. God’s anger against our sin is real. And just because we are God’s forgiven, adopted children does not mean that we will have a wonderful life. We deserve to be slaughtered. We deserve to have towers pushed over on us. God’s anger is real, and death is what our sin has earned us. We, all of us, need to repent.
We have angered God by the evil we have done. We deserve His wrath for the good we have left undone. We need to repent of our good works because they don’t cut it. Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags (lit. used toilet paper). Do you think that your attendance at church, giving your offering, and living a generally good life means that God owes you? Does any of that mean you are less likely to be crushed by a tower or martyred by a wicked ruler?
Repent. Your life isn’t quiet and comfortable because you have pleased God with the fruit of your good works. God isn’t nice to you based on how you are living at any given moment. In fact, God isn’t nice at all. He does not tolerate your sin. He condemns it and punishes it. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
God isn’t nice, but He is good. Jesus uses this little parable about the barren fig tree to show you the goodness and patience of God. Imagine this barren fig tree. According to God’s command (Lev. 19:23-25), when a tree was planted, you gave the tree three years to grow. Then, the first three years of fruit from that tree were forbidden. The seventh year after the tree is planted (which should also be the fourth year that it produces fruit), all the fruit is to be given as an offering to God. So, the vineyard owner in this parable has been waiting for three years for that first crop to bring as an offering to God. This is a nine-year-old tree hasn’t produced anything – worthless thing that it is.
The vineyard owner calls his vinedresser to sharpen the axe and chop down that parasitic tree. But the vinedresser intercedes. “Sir, let it alone this year also.” Let it alone. Jesus literally says, “Forgive the tree this year also. Give Me have some time with it. Let Me dig around it. Let Me fertilize it. Let’s see what I can do with this worthless tree.”
In this little parable, Jesus is giving us a beautiful picture of what we read in Romans 8:34, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God who indeed is interceding for us.”
You see, the God who is angry with your sin, the God who pushes over towers, the God who puts rulers in authority who sentence Christians to death, He is the very God who digs, prunes, and fertilizes. And He is not done with you. He refuses to stand by and watch as you grow fruitless and wild. He will not chop you down without first caring for you with His love. Jesus pours out His blood for you and showers his constant forgiveness upon you.
Always remember that. You live only by His mercy. Learn to number your days because God is not nice, but He is good. His mercy endures forever and ever. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.