A Lesson From the Fig Tree, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Written by Joel on March 9th, 2010

Mar 7, 2010
3rd Sunday of Lent
Luke 13:1-9


Reap what you sow. What goes around comes around. Do good things, good things happen; do bad things; bad things happen. Just desserts. Have you ever heard any of these sayings? Its Karma. Its not the gospel, but it is something commonly believed even among Christians.

The recent earthquake in Haiti , and just last week in Chile, is still quite fresh in our minds. And our hearts, prayers, and support have gone out to those so have been so profoundly affected. Yet, even in the wake of inexplicable tragedy people look for others to blame. Perhaps to find meaning in suffering to answer the question why does a good God let things like earthquakes happen? The answer, provided by leaders in the Christian church, has been to point to sin and to go as far as to call these natural disasters divine retribution. The most prominent of these quotes comes from Pat Robertson who said on his television program on Jan 13, the day after the earthquake struck.

something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.” True story. And so, the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.”

And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.

This is the same mistake that was made in our Gospel reading today. As Jesus was preaching, some people came up to him and shared news of certain acts of divine retribution. In the first bit of news we hear about Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Meaning that there was a group of Jewish worshipers in the middle of offering their sacrifice – remembering that they still practiced animal blood sacrifices in that day. And Pilate had them killed where they worshiped so that their blood flowed along with the blood of the sacrificed animals. The other event is presumably an engineering disaster in which a tower collapsed and killed 18. The first exhibits seemingly righteous people exactly where they ought to be – in the temple worshiping God; and yet they are slaughtered. The second is an incident which could only be explained as an act of God. The only explanation, in the eyes of those who witnessed these things, is that they deserved it. And as we hear from Pat Robertson, its an explanation that we might expect today.

But Jesus flat out tells them that they are wrong! Do you think that they were any worse sinners than you are? Of course not! But unless you repent, you will face the same fate. Jesus seems to be telling us two contradictory things here: death is not the result of sin; but if you don’t repent you will also die.

The idea that punishment is the result of sin is constantly refuted in scripture. We might think of Job whom we are told “was a righteous man.” Jesus elsewhere tells us that the sun rises on the just and the unjust, the rain falls on the sinner and the righteous alike. Or the blind man in John 9. The disciples ask “whose sin caused his blindness; the man or his parents?” Jesus says neither! Then heals the man by sending him to the pool of Siloam….the same name as the tower which fell.
And yet Jesus tells us, watch out! Because you have a similar fate, if you choose not to repent. I’m saying that punishment is the result of sin, but still – you better watch out! I wonder if what Jesus is telling us here is that sin does in fact have consequences, consequences that are near and personal. When we focus on the sin of others, or impersonal divine retribution (you better come to Jesus cause you might get hit by a bus on your way home today) then our repentance remains external. It is something far off, distant, and perhaps unreal. If you continue to be unrepentant, you will perish and in worse ways that what you have reported.

Jesus closes with a lesson from the fig tree – will that fig tree be chopped down, or will it bear good fruit?


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