Luke 13:1-9 (2 March 2022)

Discrimination against Christians is not a new thing.

Jesus warned his followers, “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’” (John 16:33)

All over the world Christians experience discrimination which often amounts to persecution.

In Nigeria, Christians are persecuted violently with little or no protection from the authorities.

In other countries they are threatened with jail or worse if they try to share the truth about Jesus. If someone converts to Christianity they are liable to a death sentence.

In Indonesia a fully qualified nurse became a Christian and lost his identification status and is unable to find employment.

In Tasmania the Catholic Archbishop published a booklet explaining Catholic doctrine, unchanged for over 1,000 years.  An individual took offence at the contents of the booklet and lodged a complaint with the authorities in Tasmania.  9 months later, after mountains of paperwork and significant legal costs to the church the complainant dropped the complaint at no cost to themselves, leaving the matter without settlement and the risk of future action.

In Victoria if a person becomes troubled about their sexuality and they approach a Christian to discuss their concerns, and especially if they ask to be prayed for, the person and their friend are both at risk  of being charged with breaking the law banning what is called “gay therapy”.

You might quote Jesus’ words, (John 14:6 NIVUK) “‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” There is a risk that in doing so you could offend someone in our increasingly sensitive society, leading to legal action against you.

Discrimination against Christians started with Jesus the Christ himself, leading to his crucifixion, and has continued ever since.  

Sometimes, when people find the news of Jesus too hard to bear we have to follow Jesus’ instruction, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:14)

Which brings us to today’s gospel reading.

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.’ Then he told this parable: ‘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 round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” ’

(Luke 13:1-9)

Apart from these words in the book of Luke we don’t know any more details about the events Jesus was asked about. 

In the first one it sounds like some Galileans brought animal sacrifices to the temple as Jews did at the time and perhaps Pilate ordered the Galileans killed and their blood mixed with the blood of the animals.  This was  a dreadful, sacrilegious action by Pilate and it raised the question whether these Galileans were being punished because they were worse sinners than others.

The second event was what we might regard as a natural disaster. A tower in Siloam collapsed on 18 people and killed them. What had they done to deserve this?

Ever since Adam and Eve first questioned God’s word and his authority all humans have followed their example of rebellion against his rule over their lives.  In other words, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) and the world has never been perfect ever since but the link between sin and suffering has never been a simple, linear one. 

We have been reading the book of Job recently.  Job certainly suffered but that had nothing to do with his sinfulness.  His so-called comforters were no help to him as they took turns trying to find out what he had done wrong.  At the end of the book we see that all of the theorising had only made Job’s suffering harder to bear and that God is sovereign, God is in charge and it is to God we submit as he ensures his purposes are carried out.

For example, “As he went along, [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

Sometimes it seems too obvious to us that a sin has brought about unwanted consequences but it’s not that simple. More often it’s straightforward cause and effect.  Gluttony may be a sin but it’s over eating that damages your health!

Those Galileans suffered as they did not because of the gravity of their sinfulness, Jesus said.  Don’t make assumptions and pass judgement on them as you do.  It makes more sense to understand that they are suffering not because of their sin but because of the sin of Pilate.

And what about natural disasters? They bring pain, cost and loss on people, Christian or not, sinner or not, on a Christian who is a worse sinner than others and on people who live blameless lives.

Drought, bushfire, flood and pandemic - we’ve seen them all and seen the suffering they have caused to people of all circumstances and faiths. Whose sin caused them? It’s a pointless question which has no answer but it seems to me that it’s a question that is being asked.  Why? Is it because we need someone to blame? Is it the person suffering?  Is it the politicians? Is it God who is to blame?

So these Galileans suffered and we want to know whose fault it was.

Jesus says, “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 when Jesus points out that the suffering was not the fault of the Galileans he goes further to challenge the questioners and to challenge us.

First, be careful where your fingers point. Don’t jump to conclusions.

 

Have you noticed that when you point your finger at someone you are pointing three fingers at yourself.

Neve mind about the Galileans, don’t ask about the situation others are in.  First of all, look to yourself and when you do be warned. Jesus said, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

In other words, don’t try to link persecution or suffering to one or more sins. Especially, don’t try to link someone else’s suffering to one or more of their own sins, or even to the sins of their parents or of others.

No! Don’t analyse their problems in order to allocate blame, but instead check up on yourself and be prepared to repent or, you too, will perish.

After all, what can you do about someone else’s sin? Nothing.  You can, of course, try to help people who are having problems but you cannot deal with their problem of sin. You can’t even draw conclusions about the seriousness or otherwise of their sinfulness; that’s their business, God’s business, not yours.

This message calling for repentance was the principle message Jesus gave from the time he began his teaching. Following his baptism and temptations at the hand of Satan, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”  (Matthew 4:17)

His disciples followed his example, “They went out and preached that people should repent.” (Mark 6:12)

The message flows right through the New Testament into the book of Revelation where Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)

Is there a more unwanted message than this call to repent?  Who wants to admit they need to repent, that there is something of which they need to repent? The very suggestion is an offence to our pride. Me, a sinner?

To satirise or mock a Christian preacher have him preach the message of repentance.

But the message comes with good news. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)

Repentance brings great blessing.  You inevitably feel so much better when you turn away from whatever is troubling you or is troubling God.

And it has a wonderful cleansing effect.  

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Isn’t it so wonderful, loving and gracious of God that as we repent and confess the honesty brings us great relief as the sacrifice of Jesus is accepted and we are considered by God as having been purified.

When I am asked, why doesn’t God come and clean up the mess that’s it the world the answer is that he is waiting to give you a chance to become a Christian.  It is inevitable that at the end of time, the great judgement day will come when God will judge each of us but in the meantime He is displaying great patience with you, he does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

And in today’s reading Jesus illustrated this with a parable.

‘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 round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” 

By this parable Jesus invites us to think of ourselves as trees in God’s vineyard.  You are a tree which is expected to grow fruit for the benefit of others and especially for God.  What if God came to enjoy some of your fruit? How fruitful are you?  Can God find the fruit you are meant to bear?  What if you are found to be fruitless?

Perhaps God would regard you as not worth keeping, as a waste of space, using up useful soil in the vineyard.  He has been keeping an eye on you for years and comes to check up on you from time to time and once again - there’s no fruit to be had.

“Cut it down”, the owner declares. Rip it out.

But the man who took care of the vineyard, perhaps as Jesus would do, makes an appeal on your behalf. Give him another chance. He says, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” 

And so, with the love of Jesus and the patience of God we are given another chance to be of value.  But you know what that means, don’t you?

The ground around you will be turned over. There will be change.  Very likely there will be some pruning done. Some trimming to cut out the dead wood, some dead-heading, some reshaping to be done. Then there’s the unpleasant experience of having fertiliser spread around your roots.  

It’s not a pleasant thought but it’s a valuable experience when you find yourself in the poo. Don’t be surprised when it happens — it’s good for you.

In other words, there will be times of some discomfort, some suffering, some unpleasantness. However there are good things, too.

One is that God gives you yet another chance.

The second is that God himself, through Jesus, works on you and your circumstances to enable you to be fruitful.

A third is that, despite some suffering, your life becomes more satisfying, more valuable, more useful and a blessing to God and to the others around you.

It is important to note, of course, that there is no benefit to us at all from the teaching of this passage if we ignore the call to repentance.

Jesus preached it from the beginning to the end of his earthly ministry and in this passage He Jesus repeated twice.

Jesus means it when he says,  “unless you repent, you too will all perish”.


1412 Modified: 10-10-2022
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