Luke 13:1-9 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still, I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
Jesus often repeated things more than once to get an important point across. In today’s lectionary gospel text, Jesus repeats the warning twice, “But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” He is responding to the unspoken question of whether sin is tied to God’s judgment.
In the first story, Galileans were killed by Pilate. Was it because of their sin? In the second story, eighteen people from Siloam were killed when a tower collapsed and fell on them. Was God judging and exercising retribution on them because they were sinners? Jesus says, “No!” The people in the two stories met their death because suffering, violence, injustice, and death is part of our human condition.
From this point of view, the teaching of Jesus is freeing and uplifting for those who suffer poverty, sickness, injury, violence, injustice, and for anyone else who suffers because it means that illness, accidents, and suffering are not by divine will, nor is it a punishment, nor is it due to the sin of parents or ancestors!
The point Jesus is making is that even though others suffer, and we may not suffer to the same degree, we are universally united with all others because of our collective sinfulness. That is, the sin of others who suffer is not greater than the sin of those that do not hurt. We are united with all people in our need for repentance from sin, our need for God’s unmerited mercy and salvation, and our need to show forth the fruit of our repentance as evidence of a life oriented toward God.
At a deeper level, the knowledge that we will all be cut down by death someday allows us to seek the Lord while he may be found. Awareness of our finitude when we see the suffering and death of others calls us to examine our lives and invites us call upon upon the Lord while he is near. We still have time to turn to God so that we can be abundantly pardoned and experience the fullness of life in God, today.
By turning to God through faith in Christ, we will experience the fullness of God’s steadfast love that is better than life. Our thirsty, searching, and restless souls will be quenched, find rest, know peace, and be satisfied with the riches of faith, hope, and love. We will find that God is our help and the one who upholds us in life. We will experience the strength of God beyond our strength in times of trial. And, we will behold how God will provide a way out when we think there is no way out.
This Lent, Jesus Christ continues to invite all to seek and find him, to call upon him today because he is near, and to turn to him for mercy and pardon so that all may live in newness of life, today, tomorrow, and forever in his everlasting love.
Blessed be God who is worthy to be praised. Blessed be Jesus Christ who invites us to new life. Blessed be the Holy Spirit who sustains our spirit in faith, hope, and love. Amen.