Lent 3c 16, February 28, 2016 – Luke 13:1-9 with Isaiah 55:1-9 in the b.g.
Sometimes, (often?) horrific things happen. Children are shot and killed in elementary and high schools. It’s so tempting to cast all blame upon the shooter or shooters, or their parents, or a system like too many guns or not enough guns. or a liberal education, or absentee parents, or poverty.
Sometimes, there are horrific accidents that may not be any one person’s fault. Boulders roll down the side of a mountain. People are struck and injured, even killed. Young children contract cancer. A plane struck by lightning crashes. Everyone on board dies. It’s beyond our comprehension. Are any or all of these people worse sinners than everyone else flying that day? Of course not! A rational person can’t directly link such tragedy as punishment by God for some great sin of one or more of the people who have been injured or died.
Yet at the same time, we need to be careful not to completely disconnect our sin from tragedy. People are killed or injured by drunk drivers. There are fraudulent builders who try to skimp on using proper materials or disregard safe guards. Such a list could go on and on. Nor can such sin be restricted to individuals, to small or large companies or corporations. We are only beginning to deal with or see the effects of our corporate greed upon the developed world. We are just beginning to glimpse the long term effects of demanding our lifestyle from the earth upon others, especially those who come after us. There are consequences for our sin. The lines aren’t always straight forward – but at times we can see links.
Jesus demands that those who blame others for any “wrong” in a particular situation, to take a long hard look at themselves, to own up to their own responsibility for what is harmful or damaging in life.
He’s very blunt with his audience in both verses 3 and 5 – “No I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish like they did”.
What does he mean? Can there be good news here for anyone, including us?
WE must think about what he means by using the word perish. I am not convinced that he means that anyone who doesn’t repent will sooner or later meet some kind of tragic end like the people in his illustrations – murdered by a tyrant even as they were in a holy place; or have a tower or sky scraper fall upon them. If God were like this, keeping track of each and every person who screwed up and meting out horrific punishments, would such a God remotely resemble the One who takes on our flesh, suffers and dies in Jesus of Nazareth?
But at the same time, there is a profound truth, a warning here, issued not once but twice by Jesus. The word perish here means, “lost” – lost to relationship firstly with God but also with others. This is a serious event. And so the warning is serious. Losing our relationships, especially with those we cherish including God is serious. We need to heed the warning.
Jesus calls his audience that day and every day to repent. Repent means to turn around, to change one’s mind, to have one’s mind changed. Ultimately repent means to be opened to one’s need for and dependence upon God.
Ours is a time where such repentance is almost unheard of – often even within the Church. In observing politicians, I rarely if ever see them admitting that they are or were wrong, that they are sorry for what they have or haven’t done. Rarely do I ever hear or see them admitting that they need help from others or from God to change.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s easy for us to blame politicians. We have no knowledge of their job. Isn’t our blaming them and their blaming others a reflection of the overarching mentality in our society? “None of what is happening is my or our fault. None of that harms or damages others is my or our responsibility!”
Such thinking and acting is a denial of our own brokenness. Not only do we make “mistakes” but often, we deceive ourselves into thinking or acting as if we are God. Sometimes we think that we know best, that our actions won’t impact others in ways that are harmful or destructive. At others times we may think or act as if there is no God.
But such thinking, such acting is sorely mistaken. There is a God. God loves us and this world. So, God gives us commands. They are for our own good, for the well being of others and creation.
Firstly and most importantly, we are to love God with everything we are and have. Then, flowing out of that love, we are to love our neighbors even as we love ourselves.
This is not easy. As Jesus tells us our neighbors are all people including Muslims, Jews, and people who deny that there is a God. Our neighbors are people of varying skin colors and cultures, different sexual preferences. Our neighbors also include other creatures and plants. We are all interdependent. We are to love all of these, including, according to Jesus, our enemies. Not agree with them. Not allow them to walk on you, abuse or destroy you. Rather, we are to love them, to actively care about and for their well being. This is God’s intention.
Do we miss that mark? Absolutely and often. The Scriptures tell us that regarding God’s holy intent as revealed in the two great commandments, we are all profoundly guilty.
This too is part of our human fabric, part of our gene pool. We cannot consistently love in the way that God intends. We are called to try. But we fail – again and again and again.
This is Jesus’ point in his stories today.
Is anyone less sinful – even those who have been unjustly and horrifically murdered, or those who have died as the result of an accident? Jesus isn’t saying that the murderer is innocent or that what he or she did is good, of God. Not at all. That is also sin! That is missing the mark of God’s good and gracious intent with immense consequences for many.
But then after Jesus uncovers some of the truth about us he also tells this amazing parable.
There is a fig tree in a vineyard. Fig trees were often used for trellising in vineyards. But this particular fig tree is not bearing any fruit, even after 6 years. The land owner comes to gather the figs off the tree. But there aren’t any. So, the landowner instructs the gardener to cut the tree down. It’s the logical thing to do. But the gardener proposes a different plan. Allow me to aerate the root, to spread manure around the tree. His is a plan of mercy, of grace. It’s also fascinating because this is the only place in New Testament where aerating roots and spreading manure is mentioned. The gardener then says, if after this additional year there is still no fruit, well the owner can come and cut the tree down.
What are Jesus’ words telling us? What do they do with us and to us?
May they point us to the truth. We need God! We need to consistently be repositioned towards God. Often we are caught, trapped in so many different thing: fear, greed, addiction, bigotry, hopelessness, drive for success, lack of trust, self righteousness. We need to be freed, to have eyes that can see, hearts that are being warmed, minds that are opened to God and others. This is an urgent need. Seeing the truth of ourselves, of others and of God is not easy, nor painless. But this truth of ourselves and of God will set us free.
We can cling to the truth of God’s mercy. God sends different gardeners to aerate the roots of our lives, spreading stuff that may not always feel good or even smell good, but which leads us from taking up space, beyond simply trying to exist, to living, loving and forgiving.
We must not be complacent. Such grace- filled wonderful opportunities don’t last forever. Now is the time. God help us! Amen.