7 March 2010

Luke 13:1-9

"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." (v.8-9)


Pontius Pilate was the governor of the Roman province of Judea. Galilee was part of another province, and many Galileans, including Jesus himself, would travel annually to the city of Jerusalem in Judea to offer sacrifice at the Jewish Temple. The Galileans had something of a reputation for rebellion, but we do not know the particular incident to which verses 1-3 refer. The same is true of the collapse of the tower of Siloam in verses 4-5. Siloam was the name of the Jerusalem reservoir, and we know that Pilate built an aqueduct to improve water supply to the city, so the collapse may have been associated with the building work.

Jesus therefore brings together an example of deaths due to human violence and those which we may describe as 'accidental'. Many people believed that calamity was a punishment sent by God for sin; other examples in the Bible of people taking this view range from the friends of Job (Job 4:7) to the disciples of Jesus (John 9:1-3).

When Jesus says that those who do not repent, meaning 'turn from their sins', will perish in the same way, he cannot mean literally that they'll be killed by soldiers or have a building fall on them. Rather it appears to be a reference to the so-called 'last judgement' - the fact that all sinners will face the judgement of God in the end.

The parable of the fig tree (fruit trees of all kinds were commonly planted in vineyards) takes up the theme of eventual judgement, but only after the fruitless tree has been given every opportunity to prove itself. Having failed to produce a crop for three successive years, the gardener pleads for one last chance, offering to loosen the soil around its roots so they can breathe, and adding manure for nourishment.

Whilst many of the parables from this later part of Jesus' ministry contain a veiled or clear indication that God's people generally are failing in their mission, evidenced by their lack of recognition of Jesus, the parable that precedes this one (Luke 12:42-48) suggests that it is right to apply it to ourselves individually as well.

To Ponder

When bad things happen, should we blame the victims? Should we blame God? Should we look for someone else to blame? Or how are we to make sense of tragedy?

The parable of the fig tree appears to seek to keep together in a helpful way God's grace (or mercy) and God's judgement. Do you believe in a judgement to come after grace has done its utmost to change people? Why?

What kind of fruit does God look for from your life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.