Bad Things for Bad People?
This weeks Gospel text is Luke 13:1-9, which presents a large lesson within a smaller lesson. This is the story of Jesus being asked if those who had “their blood mingled with their sacrifices” by Pilate (this was likely a murder by Pilate, prefiguring Jesus’ blood mingled with the Passover sacrifice) were worse sinners than other Galileans. Jesus rejects this framing. He then asks those questioning him whether the tower of Siloam falling (likely a piece of local news known to them all) on the 18 victims meant that those victims were worse offenders than others in Jerusalem. Jesus also rejects this framing.
It is the age-old question as to why bad things happen to people. Many, at an instinctive level, want bad people to have bad things happen. We also seek this to provide some understanding as to why these awful things occur in this world. It satisfies the all too human need for our view of “justice”. Fortunately, Jesus offers us a God-centered justice that is immeasurably wider than our own.
The Main Lesson
Jesus uses these stories to point away from focusing on the sins of others and putting the focus back where it should be, on our own sins. Luke 6:42 is where Jesus drives home this lesson about pulling the log out of our eye before looking for the speck in our neighbors’ eye. Both times Jesus rejects the notion of bad things happening because of people’s sins he reminds us that we need to repent, or we will perish. This too puts the focus uncomfortably on our own sins, which is where Jesus wants it.
Then Jesus drives home the main point of this teaching by telling the parable of the barren fig tree. Jesus points out that a good tree with strong roots (our faith) will produce good fruit (acts). Notably, this does not occur in the other direction. Acts (fruits) will never produce a strong tree (faith). The faith must always come first.
That the man in this parable is willing to give the tree one more year seems emblematic of God’s willingness to give us more chances via his forgiveness. However, the parable ends, as does Jesus’ answer to the questions about sinners and suffering, with the same admonition to repent (literally turn around) and enable your strong roots of faith to produce good fruits of acts; witness to God’s redemption. Time will run out, for the tree in the parable and for all of us. Not even Jesus knows when this will be (Luke 12:39). So, the main lesson, is to simply be ready. Trust in God through his son Jesus and turn around (repent).
This is the good news in what for many is a disturbing image. We trust in God, repent and have faithful confidence that we will be saved as we hope the fig tree will be saved. Ours is simply to repent (believe) and produce good fruit (obey).
Praise Be to God