Text: Luke 13:1-9, 31-35
Did you see this video clip of the meteor that exploded over Russia last week? Wasn’t that incredible? What would be going through someone’s mind at that moment? Ahhhh. We’re gonna die! It’s the end of the world! This is God’s judgment!
Have you noticed how some people are quick to associate God’s judgment with natural disaster? When a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a tornado hits; when a meteor screams down fire from the sky, they say, “This is God’s judgment for sin.”
That’s exactly the note that our text starts on today. Jesus is having a conversation with his disciples as they are traveling on the road to Jerusalem and they ask him about a horrific event that had just happened, and many people wonder if it is God’s judgment for sin.
So, that’s what we are going to talk about. What is God’s judgment? First we’re going to see what it is not. Then we’ll look at what it is.
Let’s look at this conversation. The disciples tell Jesus about the latest news regarding the cruelty of Pilate. Who’s this Pilate guy? In Luke’s Gospel this is a foreshadowing of things to come. Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea. He was an intense man who was under incredible pressure from the Emporer to keep the peace in Judea. History tells us that Pilate had to put down over sixty violent rebellions in Judea while he was the governor. The region was so violent and volatile that the emporer told Pilate that if he didn’t get it under control then it would be his head.
The disciples tell Jesus that Pilate had taken the blood of some Galilleans and mixed it with their sacrifice. That’s brutal and it is a total religious slap in the face to the Jews.
Notice what Jesus does. He makes two comments about it. First he says, “do you think this was done because of their sin?” In other words, was this terrible thing the judgment of God? His answer? No, it was not. Then he brings up another current event. A tower fell on a bunch of people and killed them. Was this the judgment of God because of their sin? No, it was not.
Here’s our first lesson about God’s judgment. God is not petty. God is not in the business of doling out torture and natural disasters to zap people for sin. Jesus told us in Matthew that the rain falls on the evil and the good. We live in a dynamic and complex universe where fires, and earthquakes, and hurricanes happen. Our planet is spinning through space where there’s tons of space debris and we are constantly hit with space rocks. We live in a world where people make evil choices and good people get hurt. Life is messy and people get hurt, but that doesn’t mean it is God’s judgment. Stuff happens.
Now, notice the second thing Jesus does, though. After each incident he makes an interesting statement. He says, “But, if you don’t repent, you will die just like them.” Is this a threat?
What’s going on? Here’s what I think is happening. Jesus is not threatening them, he is warning them. Remember what I said about Pilate. He had to put down over sixty violent rebellions in Judea. Judea. The chosen people of God. The people that God had called way back with Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. They are violent people constantly plotting violence and assassinations toward the Romans.
I think what Jesus is saying to them is simply this, “if you don’t stop the violence, you are all going to die.”
Is this judment, or warning? Let’s think about it this way. Let’s say you had a friend named Jule. Julie was a bright, pretty girl. One day Julie gets connected with some people who convince her to try meth. She takes it and likes it and soon she is hooked on it. You start seeing a change in her. What do you do? Have you ever seen one of those Meth makeover posters? My brother-in-law is a detective in Denver and he actually made those makeover posters. He would bust a woman multiple times over the years and each time they would take her picture. Each year she looked more and more like a skeleton, until eventually she died. Out of love for Julie you tell her that if she doesn’t stop her behavior she will die.
Is that judgment, or is it warning?
Jesus looks at the people of Jerusalem and says, “if you don’t stop the violence, you will die. Rome will come in and squash you like a bug.”
Look what he says next. He tells them a parable about a fig tree. A man has a fig tree planted in his vineyard and for three years it has not produced any fruit. Naturally the man wants to get rid of the fig tree. Yank it out. Notice what happens. The gardener begs for mercy and for another chance. “Just give the tree one more year. Let me tend to it, and then see if it doesn’t bear fruit.”
This is the true picture of God’s judgment. God is longsuffering and patient with his stubborn people.
The fig tree is the nation of Israel. All throughout our story that we have been tracking this year, the nation of Israel has been pictured as either a vine or a tree. God planted Israel so that it would bear fruit.
What is the fruit? The fruit that God wants to grow through Israel is the fruit of love. This fig tree is blessed to be a blessing…in all circumstances. God wants them to bear the fruit of love, even when they are oppressed by an Empire like Rome. God’s people don’t lash out in violence. God’s people don’t repay evil with evil. God’s people love their enemies and do good to those who persecute them.
At the end of this chapter we see Jesus getting closer to Jerusalem, this fruitless tree, and his heart breaks. He knows, that as much as he tries to convince them to bear fruit, they won’t listen. He knows that their continued violence and hatred is going to bring the wrath of Rome down on them. He knows that in A.D. 70 the Roman Empire would level their city to the ground and most of them would die. And it breaks his heart.
God is not quick to judge. God’s purpose is to cultivate his tree so that the world may taste the fruit of God’s love.
As I was meditating on this passage during the week, it struck me. Our core values at Grace are framed around the image of a fruit tree. Look at this.
WeConnect. When a tree is surrrounded by other kinds of trees and is cross pollinated and recieves new things into itself, it is made stronger and more vibrant. At Grace we strive to welcome all people, no matter who they are, into our community, because we know that diversity will make us more vital.
WeGrow. We grow our roots deep into the scripture, into prayer, into the habits of spiritual formation so that we can be grounded in God’s love and truth.
WeEquip. We grow up into a strong body where children are nurtured in the ways of Jesus so that they can become young adults who are confirmed in their faith and equipped to be God’s faithful peoplei in the world. We work on equipping strong relationships in families and friendships and give people the skills needed to do the ministry that God has called them to do. When we are a strong body we can withstand the winds that blow against us. We may bend, but we wont’s break.
But what if we stopped there? What if we just focused on those three things? A fruit tree that is just about being a tree is missing the point. The tree does not exist for itself. The tree exists to bear fruit. The fruit is designed to feed other creatures that aren’t trees.
When a fruit tree produces fruit two things happen. Other creatures are fed. And the seed is spread so that more trees can be planted and grow.
God has planted us, Grace Lutheran Church, as a ministry of Grace in the heart of Andover. The fruit God calls us to bear is love. We are called to love each other, to love our neighbors, and to love our enemies. God has called us to be a place of shelter for the traveler and food for the hungry.
It is Lent. We are on this journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem. This is a season where God invites us to get still and take inventory. Each one of us is both a part of this tree called Grace, and also a tree within ourselves. Each one of us will stand before God someday and give account for the fruit that we have or have not born in our life.
What does God’s judgment look like? God is not up in Heaven with a thunder bolt, just waiting for you to break a law so He can zap you. God is the vineyard owner, investing in you to bear the fruit of love for the world. May we allow God to continually prune us and cultivate us so that we will increase in our capacity to provide the fruit that our neighbors so desperately need.