Have you ever had something bad happen to you and it made you ask if God is punishing you or why God allowed it to happen? Well if you have, you’re not alone. People have asked this question since the beginning of time, and this same question is the foundation of the Gospel reading from Luke 13:1-9.
That particular reading mentions two incidents that are not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible-Pilate’s slaughter of the Galileans in the Temple and the collapse of the tower. Pilate had proven himself capable of killing Jews who displeased him or opposed his policies. The crowd apparently wanted to see Jesus’ response to Romans slaughtering righteous Jews as they performed their Jewish religious duties.
There was a belief at that time that severe calamities happened only to people who deserved God’s judgment and that the truly righteous were spared suffering. Jesus said that this was not true. Jesus said in effect that the precariousness of life in a fallen world should prompt us to take stock of our spiritual conditions. Jesus’ words about judgment and repentance are scary, but they depict human life as a gift.
There are still some people today who believe that a person’s suffering is a result of his/her actions. This is true to some extent. For example, an alcoholic who develops cirrhosis of the liver has no one to blame except himself and his decision to drink alcohol to excess. Some churches are also guilty of this sinful belief. For example, there was a church that taught that God’s approval, love and blessing were all conditional based upon one’s performance. As a consequence, some people who have experienced spiritual abuse and hold a distorted image of God see God as a policeman who will punish them for any wrongdoing.
Suffering is not a form of punishment. God does not want anyone to suffer. He wants us to turn away from sin and turn to him so we can have abundant lives. On the other hand, Jesus didn’t deny the connection between sin and disasters, because many disasters are the result of the curse of human sin. He does challenge the notion that people who survive disasters are morally superior than the victims. Disasters are not God’s way of singling out evil people for death. Disasters are God’s way of warning all sinners. Since disasters occur without warning, we must always be ready to meet God.
For Jesus, the real sin is not bearing fruit when we have been given the responsibility to do so. We are planted where we are and we are called to be responsible disciples who do God’s work in whatever calling we have.
Jesus told several parables relating to vineyards during his teaching. In each parable, the vineyard represented both the people of Israel and us. According to Old Testament law, no one was to eat the fruit from newly-planted trees. This fruit belonged to God. God gave Israel plenty of time to repent and bear fruit, and he gives us plenty of time to repent and bear fruit. Eventually, judgment will come. God wanted to show compassion to the people of Israel, and he wants to show us compassion as well, but his compassion has a limit. We must not presume upon God’s grace and patience.
The voice of the gardener is a voice for mercy. More time is given for the tree and us to bear fruit. The tree can’t do it on its own, so the gardener will take steps to help the tree be fruitful. Similarly, God has taken steps to help us be fruitful. He has sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. He has given us instructions in the Scriptures. God is always on our side. He always sends us help and encouragement in our need to change and live fruitful lives. The life of a disciple of Jesus consists of daily repentance and renewal. Each day is a day of grace, providing the opportunity to repent and bear the fruits of repentance. When our time is up, it’s up. God will give us many opportunities to repent and obey the gospel, but if we don’t, God will deal with us.
Both of the stories we heard from Luke’s Gospel are calls to repent. God wants us to repent. He wants to be involved in our lives and give us the promise of heaven and spiritual blessing. He wants to plant something in us that will grow and bear fruit. This fruit will change the way we live and it will impact our actions, decisions and character. Jesus’ purpose is to redeem us. Jesus wants to see something grow within us as a result of his presence in our lives. We have no right to be taking up space in church if we aren’t being fruitful. We need to share Christ with other people. We do this by inviting them to church or by talking about Jesus with them over a cup of coffee.
Time can be a grace for us. It gives us space and time to grow, mature spiritually, reform our lives, serve the Lord and remove the obstacles between God and us and between us and others. It doesn’t matter what size the obstacles are.
During this season of Lent, we are called on to give thanks to the one who spared us from his wrath and gave us the gift of today. We must not waste this gift by returning to the ways of sin. We must use this season of Lent to examine our own behaviours and make the changes we need to make. We do this by following these steps:
- We must acknowledge our need for God in prayer and in our hearts.
- We must confess our sins.
- We must accept God’s forgiveness and lay claim to his love.
- We must change our minds and re-examine some things about our lives, our priorities and our patterns of activity.
- Finally, we must bear fruit. We have to show some new actions, practices and behaviours that reflect the love that God has for us and the love we have for God.
When we walk with God, we will be strengthened by his presence and we will find hope through his love. That makes all the difference to us. When times are tough, we know that we are not alone. We know that God will help us. Our faith will keep us on the right path. It will help to keep us moving. It will help us to do the right thing. God walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death, because Jesus opened the doorway to eternal life for us. That gives us hope, and that hope is a blessing.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1413)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Robin Dugall, “What Fruit Are You Growing?” Retrieved from homeword.com
- “Each and Every Person.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor Dick Woodward, “An Unfruitful Disciple.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, Third Sunday of Lent (C).” Retrieved from preacherexchange.org
- Arland J. Hultgren, “Commentary on Luke 13:1-9.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org./preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1578
- The Rev. Joseph Evans, “Spared the Axe.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/4534-spared_the_ax.print
- The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler, “Changing Your Mind, Bearing Fruit.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/1033-changing_your_mind_bearing_fruit.print.
- “Spiritual Abuse Warps Our View of God: How to Heal”. Retrieved from preachitteachit.org/articles/detail/spiritual-abuse-warps-our-view-of-god-how…
- Exegesis for Luke 13:1-9. Retrieved from lectionary.org