Here we go!
A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ (Luke 13:6-9)
It's always noteworthy to see what preceded Jesus' teaching. You can imagine the people listening to Jesus and someone eagerly brings up this horrible event for Jesus' interpretation:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:1-5)
The Book of Job was as familiar to this crowd as it is to us. The righteous man visited with sufferings unimaginable, draws us immediately in with the question: Why do we suffer? All of Job's friends have explanations and Job is constantly bombarded with the idea that he must have done something to warrant his current situation. So, tucked into telling of the Galileans' tragedy to Jesus is, what sin did these people commit to warrant such treatment?
Stop for a moment. Think about what is really being asked. What did those Galileans do so we can avoid doing the same things and avoid having that kind of judgment rained down on us? In other words, like Job's friends, who kept hunting for something that he must have done, these listeners of Jesus are on the same hunt. Going even deeper still, at the core of the question, is pride. We won't have that kind of judgment on us because we are good! We haven't done anything so obviously wrong that we'll get into trouble.
Like Job's friends, who were terrified that they would be the next Job, these people are distancing themselves from suffering with their prideful assertion that things like that don't happen to people like us--that is, good people--only to bad people.
Jesus had no tolerance for separating ourselves from those who suffer. Satan was involved in Job's suffering. We live in a fallen world, and we live under the rule of the Prince of this World, who loves to torment and cause pain and suffering among the just and the unjust. Why, then? Because the just grow afraid that they are not good enough and have committed some unpardonable sin, and the unjust sink deeper into despair, thinking they are beyond the reach of God. Ultimately, both the unjust and the just move further away from each other, not willing to share the burden of walking on a planet defiled by sin's consequence.
We want to be considered just, because our sins are not as bad as that other guy's. We compare ourselves to each other, and we walk out on the good side of things. Or, we are so steeped in sin and shame that we walk out hanging our heads.
But here's the key: the standard of goodness is not each other...it is God Himself. Paul speaks of all of us when he says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans. 3:23).
Whoa. So, those of you standing on the "We Are the Just--We Won't Suffer 'Cause We're Good" side of the field need to come on down.
Those of you who are standing on the "We Are the Unjust--We Deserve Everything We Get" side of the field need to come on down.
Let's meet in the middle. And what is the middle part of the Humanity Field called? "We All Have Eternity Staring at Us and We All Stand Condemned." Coach Jesus is calling us and warning us that the world is filled with evil--there are towers and Pilates everywhere and they can strike us at any time.
How do we play this field, then, Coach? With humility. Those who sin and those who suffer are on the same field. We are a team. We are all in this together. We all have in common our sin, our failings and our need for a Savior. Don't stand on the sidelines when a team member gets decked and say, "Well, that was their fault. I wouldn't have made that play that way." NO!!! Rush into the field and help out! Why? At the end of the game, all of us will face the Eternity Playoff.
The "good" and "bad" players will stand on the same yard line, and face the Big Judgment. We will all stand before the most fair Coach in the Universe. He will judge fairly, but He will judge: "But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
OK, let's cut to the parable. See Jesus' point? We all are given adequate time to repent. Even an unfruitful fig tree is given time to produce. But why has it not been productive? Look at the man's solution: It needs fertilizing. Obviously the soil it is in is not providing enough nourishment, even though it is old enough to have produced fruit. The man is the fig tree's advocate, but the owner of the vineyard wants it gone.
The owner wants "justice"--it doesn't produce, so it deserves to be cut down!
The worker in the vineyard wants "mercy": give the tree another chance, and with the right application of nutrients and enough time, it will produce!
Contrast that with the earlier question about the death of the Galileans. Was their calamity actually a punishment for their sins? A divine act of justice?
But the fear woven into this discussion was one of wanting mercy. If God allows such justice to fall, isn't there any mercy available? Don't we really, if we are honest enough, all deserve God's justice? But we want mercy! We want a second chance! We want another year to be tended and fertilize and then we will produce!
Jesus stood before the crowd with a reminder that God is patient, forgiving and willing to grant us mercy. But...He is not endlessly patient, forgiving and willing to grant us mercy. We are not to take advantage of Him. Now is the time to seek His forgiveness and mercy. Allow His word to fertilize you and His Son to forgive you.
Fruit or fire: The choice is yours and today is a good day to make that decision.
If you have already chosen, stay in community with others, and don't shrink back when calamity hits. Don't obsess over the why's and the wherefores--weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. In other words, life in the Body isn't easy, but it's all we've got.