There’s a nervous urgency in the Gospel passage we’re reading today. Just before this passage Luke shows us Jesus opening his heart, and sharing something very personal with his little band of disciples. We can hear both excitement and sadness in his words. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it was already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.”
He then looked out at the crowd that hads been following him. They were waiting to hear him speak, but most of all, they were waiting to see him perform a miracle. They wanted a show. They weren’t ready to hear his message. There was anger and frustration in Jesus’ voice as he addressed them. “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain – and so it does. And when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot – and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
Shortly after, a group of people reported a terrible incident to Jesus. It had taken place in Galilee. This is where our passage begins today. Members of the Zealot party, a militant Jewish group that vigorously opposed the Roman occupation, had rioted over a tax that was leveled for an infrastructure project. Pilate brutally squelched the riot, and then, in an act of ultimate desecration, mixed the blood of those killed with the blood offered in pagan sacrifices. The people wondered what these men could have done that God would punish them in such a horrible and degrading way?
Before responded Jesus added another incident to their report. He referred to the collapse of a watchtower near the pool of Siloam in which 18 people were killed. He told the crowd that the people who died in these incidents weren’t being punished because of their sins. This must have thrown them all off. This thinking was so foreign to them. They believed all suffering was a punishment from God. Then he added something that must have blown them away. “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” What was he talking about? First he told them that the people who died in those two incidents weren’t being punished by God. Then he told them that they would die in the same way if they didn’t repent!
Jesus was teaching the crowd that God isn’t like them. We punish each other in horrible ways in retribution for breaking laws or for being personally offended. We also sometimes just make mistakes that have terrible consequences, like constructing a faulty tower.
After getting their attention by shocking them with puzzling statements, he pulled his teaching together by concluding with a tender parable about a fig tree that produced no fruit for three years. The owner of the orchard told the gardener to cut it down. But the gardener pleaded with him to let him fertilize and cultivate it for another year. Only then, would he feel comfortable to cut it down.
Practical wisdom would direct us to get rid of this fruitless tree in order to plant a new one that would grow fruit. But God’s thinking is so different from ours. God never gives up on us. God’s loving compassion is always reaching out to us, fussing with us day after day, year after year. God is infinitely patient. His love is always present to strengthen us and enrich us. God’s heart longs for us to bloom and be fruitful.
Jesus was looking the crowd straight in the eye. His look was a challenge. He told them to repent! To look at life through God’s eyes, not theirs. To change their way of thinking, to let God work with them, to nurture them, to feed them, to tend to them. He was challenging them to let God love them!
It’s Lent – the time of repentance – the time to begin thinking in a different way. Spend some time with this teaching. Think about letting God love you