Third Sunday in Lent – 3rd March 2013
As we gather for worship this Sunday, we are at the halfway point of our journey through Lent. How has that journey been for you so far? What has been your experience of God during these past three weeks? What spiritual practices have deepened your faith? If you haven’t engaged with God on the journey, it’s not too late!! That’s what today’s message is all about from Luke 13:1-9. It’s about A Change of direction, repentance and becoming fruitful.
I am again using the biblical reflections by Rev John Barr from Uniting World in his Bible Discussion Series for Lent Event “A People on the way” as a stimulus for my sermon.
Today Jesus presents us with the parable of the fig tree. In the Hebrew scriptures the fig tree is often used as a metaphor for Israel. Fig trees are common in the Middle East. A unique feature of this plant is that fruit appears before the leaves appear and in this passage Jesus speaks about a fig tree whose branches were well endowed with foliage but it has no fruit. The point is that we encounter a well-developed, mature tree that fails on its most fundamental account – it bears no fruit!
Such a scenario prompts a curse…. “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” But the gardener makes a plea and the fig tree is granted a stay of execution. The fig tree is given another year of life, a stay of execution to produce the necessary goods.
Here the fig tree’s great sin is one of omission…… it is simply doing nothing! It’s most likely a healthy, vibrant plant but it is serving no purpose. It just doesn’t produce the goods…….it’s all show and no substance!
The passage opens with a report to Jesus about Pilate’s brutal slaughter of Galileans and then Jesus mentions the accidental death of eighteen inhabitants of Jerusalem when the Tower of Siloam falls on them. Here the discussion doesn’t make any conclusions about why such tragedies take place. Rather, the focus is on our vulnerability as human beings and our need for repentance. The overriding concern here is for a change of heart. The big issue concerns the renewal of one’s understanding and approach to life – because we never know when life will end.
Together with the story of the fig tree, this passage is a real wake-up call. After all, life can end at any time. Meanwhile the fig tree in this story is truly living on borrowed time!
In the case of the fig tree, something amazing happens. God’s grace and mercy comes into play. The gardener pleads for more time. The gardener pleads for a stay of execution. More time is sought for the fig tree to bear fruit. In the broader sense, more time is sought for God’s people to have a change of heart, to repent and get on with the business of being God’s faithful, fruitful people.
Here the fig tree reminds one of a reasonably prosperous church in the suburbs or a pious Christian who looks pretty good but actually doesn’t do much. Here it’s a case, not so much of bad people doing bad things, as it is of good people failing to do particularly good things!
The key to such a scenario is the need for repentance (“metanoia” in the New Testament Greek). Repentance involves a change of mind, a reorientation, a looking beyond the present that involves real transformation. In this passage “metanoia” is used in the present tense implying continual action. Here Jesus calls for an active change of mind, for an act of transformation that is continuous and is, therefore, integral to our ongoing lifestyles and commitment.
Here is a call for a continuous change in direction.
It’s not too late, you’ve been given some more time ….come on…meet Jesus….this week… on that journey to Jerusalem.
Rev. Brad Foote