There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) Jesus was no stranger to disasters. And in this passage, we see how he helped his disciples to work through two. The first example was an act of political brutality where Pilate, the Roman Governor, apparently killed worshipers at the temple as an act of suppressing rebellion. Not much else is known of this event, but it was consistent with Roman oppression at the time. Many Israelites were often rebellious against Roman rule. And Rome responded in kind with an iron fist. The second incident appears was an “accident”. A tower collapsed killing 18 people. In Jewish culture at this time, victims of such events were considered to be judged by God.for their sin. When bad things happened, it was God’s punishment for your sin. When good things happened, it was God’s reward for your righteousness. You reap what you sow. And how often do we fall into the same mindset when such events occur? As human beings, we are “meaning-makers”. We want to know “why”. And since we do not have the infinite perspective of God, we work with the pieces we have to try and figure it out on our own. We know God is sovereign and just. We know he demands obedience and promises blessing or punishment based upon our conduct. We know from biblical history that God did in fact judge people for sin with such disasters before. So, when disaster comes, we plug it in into our moral formula and conclude those victims must have deserved it, and therefore we must be ok since it didn’t happen to us. But is it really so easy to interpret disasters that way?
2) Jesus here rejected such a simplistic.and self-righteous mindset. God’s ways are more mysterious and nuanced. God had a purpose for each individual in these disasters. For one, it may be punishment. For another, it may have been God’s instrument to bring a believer to heaven. For every survivor, or even the nation as a whole, God had purposes in that event as well. It’s impossible for finite creatures like us to unravel all the complex threads of God’s wisdom, justice, and mercy extending into the world from such an event, unless God himself actually tells us why. Now, often he explained why such things happened in Scripture at the time of the event. We will see an example of that tomorrow. And so, some try to interpret our events by comparing them to the old ones and use the simplistic formula, “They died because they were sinners, but I survived because I’m righteousness.” But Jesus here, refused to do that.
3) Instead Jesus turned the event back on the audience. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” He already knew the answer of course. That’s exactly what they thought. And notice, he did not deny the victims were “sinners”. But he also said the others were sinners too, and called them to repent of their own sins before such things happened to them. In other words, instead of asking why the victims died, you should ask yourself why you have not died instead. You deserve the same fate. When disaster comes, we do not to speculate on the spiritual condition or merits of the victims, but be grateful that God has granted us more time to repent of our own sins.
4) Jesus reinforced this point with a parable about a fruitless fig tree. For three years it bore no fruit. The owner was ready to tear it down. But the vinedresser asked for one more year of cultivation to see if any fruit would come. The immediate application was Israel. Jesus had come to his people and found no fruit and time was running out. But, as we saw with the seven churches in Revelation last week, he still calls his people to repentance today and threatens judgment if they refuse. And he is very patient in this process. But eventually, judgment will come. And every time you see a disaster happen, its a reminder to humble yourself, examine your own life, and find where you need to repent. It could have happened to you and probably should have. The fact that you were spared means God is giving you more time to repent. Don’t waste it.