28 February 2016Luke 13:1-9
“If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (v. 9)
Psalm: Psalm 63
Previously Jesus was preaching judgement and division, urging people to recognise the signs of the age (Luke 12). Maybe this is why someone mentioned the news of the Galileans murdered by Pilate, pushing Jesus to elaborate on whether that was a sign. Or maybe it was because Jesus and his band of Galilean pilgrims were on their way to Jerusalem.
We are not sure who these Galileans were. No other Gospel writer or historian of the time mentions them. They may have been rebels, they may just have been pilgrims caught up in the wrong place. Pilate certainly had a reputation for barbarity and being unconcerned for religious sensibilities.
If this event happened exactly as reported it would mean not just murder but the desecration of the temple. By contrast, the incident at Siloam seems purely accidental. But both events were used to challenge people's thinking about sin and suffering.
Many people of the time believed a person's suffering was a sign of some sin, worse than the sins 'ordinary' people committed. Jesus rubbishes such an idea, claiming that they were no worse than anyone else. Instead, both events were signs of the need to repent (verse 5).
The initial readers of Luke's Gospel, coming after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD70, may well have seen this call to repentance as being on a national scale - seeking peace rather than rebellion. However, we mustn't shrink away from seeing it on a personal level also.
Jesus then told the parable of the fig tree by way of explanation. In an agricultural society, trees that show no sign of ever bearing fruit are wasted land and lost profit, but the gardener takes another perspective, offering a second chance. There are not limitless chances though, the core test will still be whether the tree is fruitful.
- From the earliest days of the Methodist movement, the people called Methodist have been expected to bear fruit. What sort of fruit should we bear in our lives?
- How do you respond to the question about why people suffer?