Jerusalem is bereft. Pilate, the Roman governor, had his troops storm the temple, murdering worshippers while praising God. Then the tower of Siloame fell, crushing eighteen people underneath a pile of rubble. Eager for revenge and bloodthirsty, heartbroken and grief stricken, the angry mourners approach Jesus for divine answers to their very human questions.
Void of empathy and understanding, Jesus responds with complete insensitivity saying, “unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.” What then does Jesus think the people need to repent of?
Luke 13:1-19 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or 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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then 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. So 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?’ He replied, ‘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.’”
Believing that God is retributive.
Wielding their axes, always too eager to sharpen their blades.
For trying to cut people down.
Not being patient enough with someone’s slow growth.
The Titanic sunk because it carried some of the wealthiest people alive, tycoons more interested in personal luxury than humanitarian benevolence. Hurricane Katrina flooded the Lower Ninth Ward because the indigenous people of New Orleans practiced voodoo. A full-term child was still born because God needed another angel in heaven. It has to be that karma catches up; no sin goes unpunished; everything happens for a reason.
What do the people need repenting of?
From Pilate to Siloam to every tragedy since, the first move we all make is to render a verdict of morality, to make meaning out of suffering, to assign blame to someone or something. It is the hysterical pursuit of why. Why? Why? Why?
But Jesus refuses to answer, offering no explanation for the disasters of the day. Instead, like every master gardener, he knows that fig trees remain fruitless if left unattended, that some don’t produce until year seven. So he clips on his overalls, rolls a wheelbarrow and grabs a spade to tend to our shallow roots, our depleted soil and our parched leaves.
The Good News in God’s garden is that those who struggle receive the best care, that today’s barren branch istomorrow’s Fig Newton, that the green thumb Savior of the world isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty.
In the name of Jesus the Christ, the zealot of next year, repent and blossom where you’re planted.