It’s rare for Jesus to use national events to springboard into spiritual discourse. He does just that in Luke 13:1-9. His beginning address sounds like a news piece. It’s obvious to interpreters that Jesus is addressing the crowd about a national crisis and possible future crises in Israel. The presence of Rome has caused pressures within the populace causing dissent. Politics has become nasty and will eventually weaken the people’s resolve, contributing to the fall of Jerusalem that took place between 66-70ad.
Jesus’ purpose was to give warning that the events in Israel, Pilate killing Galileans and a tower falling that killed many, were just the beginning and they needed to repent and follow God. Without repentance there is no way the nation can come together and find its way to survive. While he addresses this concern, he takes time to chastise those that think the people who were killed in Galilee and Siloam were worse sinners. This stems from a long but faulty idea that bad things happen to bad people. This wrong-headed belief leads to greater strife and dissent in Israel and hinders our view of life and God.
The address starts like this:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Jesus had been talking about repentance and the coming calamities. He was worried they didn’t recognize the seriousness, and consequently the need to repent. Then someone mentions the atrocity involving some Galileans who came to sacrifice near the temple. Dramatically, they said that when Pilate killed them, he mingled their blood with the blood of the sacrifice. It was a horrible event, but Jesus’ response was strange. He told them, “Do you think these people killed by the temple, were any worse sinners than yourselves?” Then he told them they must repent, or they could perish the same way.
Jesus saw in their comments a strong hatred for the Romans but at the same time the old belief that if something horrible happens to you it’s because you have sinned. Jesus dismisses this and chastises them for not taking their own spiritual life seriously. Unless you repent, ask for forgiveness and start living through the grace of God, you stand a chance to fall into the same situation.
Spiritual life is about compassion and mercy coming from God. Unless we repent our hate, revenge and small mindedness, we will have no way of living a life that can really help humanity. He’s saying that this horrible event, while tragic, is only part of the suffering of life. Costly discipleship is hard work, but necessary if the world is going to find any hope of redeeming itself from its violent habits.
The second tragedy is the tower that fell on 18 people, killing them. Jesus tells the crowd the same as before, “Do you suppose they were any worse sinners than other people there?” Then he tells them to repent. But from what? He wants them to repent for being small minded and narrow in their understanding of God. God is about mercy, and we must be about mercy. That is our costly discipleship.
The final address goes like this:
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Like many parables, it’s the interpretative key to the discussion at hand. We saw this in the Rich Fool, and now in the parable of the Barren Fig Tree. He is stern and unbending in his discourse on the tragedies in Israel’s history. He hits them with a heavy dose of repentance and warns that they could experience similar tragedies. But this parable shows a different side of God. Instead of cutting the tree down because it was barren, the tenant farmer pleads with the owner to give it another year of nurturing. The owner agrees.
This is a compassionate and patient God, willing to wait for life to come back into us. Instead of presenting a panic of expediency, Jesus presents a God waits patiently while they get themselves together through the costly discipleship of grace and repentance. Take this opportunity to change your life and let the spirit of God cover you with grace.