Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Chance to Bear Fruit

Lent 3C, February 28, 2016
Image result for tower of siloam imageLuke 13:1-9At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or 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? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Image result for fig tree fertilizer6Then 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. 7So 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?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

I remember after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans years ago that there was a prominent Christian speaker who started saying that the devastation resulted from America' sin and need to repent- that we needed to change our ways and God was trying to get our attention before it was too late. That’s not the only time that humans have wondered if God punishes us for our sins or tries to get our attention using natural disasters or epidemics or other tragic events. It seems that after terrible events, there are lots of people who do return to God out of fear for what God will do.

Is that what Jesus is telling the people in the gospel today? Certainly, there are some who have interpreted verse 5 that way. Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did”- and he’s referring to the terrible deaths of sinners.

But then what do we do when we set this story alongside the reading from Isaiah 55? This passage is one of the great stories of God’s saving acts, ranked up there in Christian tradition with the stories like the Creation; the crossing of the Red Sea; the Valley of the Dry Bones; Jonah in the belly of the Big Fish; and Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace. As in those other stories, God does great things, giving abundant life to God’s people. In Isaiah 55 specifically, God promises new life and sustenance for the returning exiles from Babylon. God will make a new covenant with them, providing them mercy and forgiveness- a feast of new life that they will not pay for, even if they could afford it. The generosity of God is beyond comprehension, and the assurance of God’s love and faithfulness is given even before repentance.
So what could Jesus possibly mean in verse 5- unless you repent, you shall die as these others did?

Perhaps it is not about the fact that they died, but rather the state they died in- of having died before they ready.

I am reminded of the difference I have seen between unexpected death and a death where the family had time to prepare. When someone dies unexpectedly, there can be unfinished business- matters that one would not have wished to left incomplete. Perhaps it is a relationship that needed mending, apologies given or asked for, or words of love or gratitude expressed.

As someone reminded me this week, “Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.” Yet we put off for tomorrow what may be done today. Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to get into the muck of our lives, the manure, and work the soil of our spiritual lives and our relationships so that we can truly thrive. By attending now to the business of living, we can bear so much more fruit than if we put it off to tomorrow.

But to return to the question of suffering. Is it punishment? I look to the whole of the story of Jesus- who suffered and died on the cross and knows our human woes. God understands our suffering because in Jesus, God took on human experience. God did this not because humans had somehow earned it, but because God loved us first, flawed and broken and sinful as we are. Patiently, lovingly, God will keep waiting for us and urging us to grow and bear fruit worthy of the lives God has entrusted to us. As the gardener who waits for a tree’s first harvest, so God waits for us to bear the fruits of love and mercy.
Image result for fertilizer
So in this time of Lent, what is the fertilizer that your spiritual life needs? What can you do to tend your spiritual life by growing in love for God or for neighbor?

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