Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 13:1-9 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
We live in a culture that has mastered the art of being outraged. Outrage has become the default mode for politicians, pundits, critics and social media. Outrage columns can be found in major newspapers and there are blogs on the internet that detail the “outrage of the month.” As soon as news breaks, social media is flooded with people playing a game of “I am more outraged at this injustice than you are.” Outrage is seen from over things serious, such as the riots in Ferguson to the trivial, such as the Kardashian’s clothing. Even more egregious is when we express outrage right in the church. Pointing out the mistakes and faults of others in the congregation. How outraged we get when someone does something we don’t like or forgets to do something. Or when someone else does something to be helpful that was our job, stepping on our toes. You can all think of examples of when you or someone else has said, “So and so did that,” or “someone didn’t do such and such.” And then there are the times someone has gotten outraged and spouted of in a meeting. What shameful behavior we have seen right here among us! Outrage is the exact opposite of forgiveness, love, and compassion. It has no place among God’s people.
While it is helpful and necessary to take action against injustice in the world, we often express outrage to make us feel better about ourselves by running someone else down and pointing out their faults. The attitude seems to be “Look at the wickedness of those people over there!” “See, I would never do that.” The text for today attacks this self-righteous attitude and makes clear that
We Are the Ones Who Need Repentance,
and We Need It Now!
The need for repentance is ours, not someone else’s (vv 1–5). You never have an excuse to point fingers at others. For you are a sinner! No matter what someone else has done, or how bad they may be, you are a sinner, you will stand in judgment on the Last Day, and you are in danger of eternal punishment in hell. Apart from the cross of Jesus Christ, you stand condemned. You are the one who needs to repent, not someone else.
What exactly happened on the occasion which our text tells us about? After hearing Jesus’ previous words on reconciliation and the need for forgiveness (12:57–59), the crowds report to him about some who had suffered at the hands of Pilate. They tell him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. There is no record either in the Bible or in history about this event, but previous kings were also known to slaughter the Jewish people at Passover feasts and mingle their blood with that of the sacrifices. Pilate may have done something similar.
But why did the people mention this incident? Their report implies that the ones who had suffered somehow deserved it, because they were more wicked than the crowds themselves. Similar to us today when something bad happens to someone we don’t like and we think, “Well, it’s about time they get what they deserve.” We even get a little sense of pleasure in the suffering and demise of those other people.
But, Jesus will not let that assumption stand. Pilate’s victims were not more wicked than those bringing the report—nor were the innocent victims who suffered when a tower in Siloam fell. Jesus replies to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” This is exactly what the tele-evangelists all said in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in 2001, and after the massive destruction from Hurricane Mitch in Louisiana and Mississippi. “It’s God’s judgment on their sins,” they cried. But Jesus replies, “No, I tell you. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” No one has any right to think he is less a sinner than someone else, “for there is none righteous, no, not one!” declares God. The same God says, “If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourselves and the truth is not in you.” He doesn’t say you deceive others, but you deceive yourselves. Everyone else knows you are a sinner; you are the only one who thinks otherwise.
It is not because others are more sinful than you that they suffer. The presence of tragedy or death of any kind is a stark reminder of the reality of sin. We cannot say with certainty that any specific tragedy is the result of a specific identifiable sin, but we can say that tragedy in general is a consequence of sin in general (Rom 8:18–25) and that all suffering, hurt, and pain are because of God’s anger at sin.
When we see tragedy in our world, we often want to distance ourselves from it. The people in our text avoided reality by placing blame on the victims—fostering a “that’ll never happen to me” or a “I would never do that” mentality that is all too common in our sinful minds. When someone gets sick we blame that person for eating wrong or doing something wrong, because we’re convinced that if we keep healthy lifestyles, sickness won’t attack us.
Not so! Tragedy and death should instead remind us of our own sinfulness and need for salvation. Every tragedy and death is a sermon on God’s wrath and our sinfulness. How many of us have been moved to contemplate our own mortality by witnessing the death of a loved one? The somber mood at a funeral is usually only partly over the death of the one in the casket. When will my day come is the real question. That’s not because of some particular sin, but because we’re all sinful. We all need to repent, because we’re all going die, and one who dies without repentance and forgiveness will perish eternally.
Jesus answers: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The time for repentance is now. Jesus illustrates the seriousness of the situation with a parable of a fruitless fig tree (vv 6–9). The lesson of the parable is that the ax of judgment was raised and poised to strike down each of us until Jesus interceded, and as the vinedresser pleaded for more time for the tree trying to save it, Jesus has interceded by way of the cross to plead for you and me.
The ax of judgment has been delayed, but not forever. It could swing down anytime. Our need is urgent! The time for repentance is now!
Thanks be to Christ that he interceded to reconcile us to God! The axe of judgment did swing down and cut Jesus off when he died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. Jesus not only interceded for us, he took our place in front of the axe. By taking our place he has freed us from the axe and given us new life. The new life we have been given by Jesus is as trees that produce the fruit of faith. The vinedresser did what it took to restore us to life; his labor was the giving of his own life!
Through that effort of the vinedresser the tree began to produce fruit just as we now produce the fruit of faith—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22–23).
And now, because we have the gift of reconciliation, we look forward to the new and perfect creation. Jesus promises that the Last Day will not be a day of judgment for the faithful (Jn 5:24). As we wait for that day, we continue to live a life of repentance for as God tells us, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief…..but God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9–14). We wait that day steadfastly studying and clinging to our Lord’s Word, treating each day as if it could be our last to receive the gift of forgiveness.
We live in a world well versed in the art of rationalizing away sin as if it were not sin. We, too, might be tempted to think of sin and judgment as applying only to other people, making excuses for our own sin, while looking for God to punish others for theirs. Rather than living in this willful ignorance, our Lord has called us to use the experience of tragedy in this world as a reminder of the fate that awaits us all: death. Thanks be to God, for he has delivered his Son to death in our place, that we might not die eternally. May our Lord keep us faithful in repentance until the day he returns to bring us to our heavenly home. Amen.