Sometimes I stop and ask myself why I bother reading or watching the news. It is quite a sad thing these days because so much of what I read or see is about death, dying, fear and suffering. When I read or hear this stuff, I react in so many different ways. Sometimes when I read these stories I feel compassion for those who are hurt, or sometimes I count my blessings that it wasn’t me, or other times I get angry with those who are hurtful and murderous. Reading the news can often be confusing and I sometimes can begin to feel despair creeping in. In the worst case, I might even find myself at a complete loss to make sense of it, or even wondering, without answer, why God lets all this happen.
Something like this is happening in our gospel passage today. Jesus is teaching in village and other than Jesus’ presence in their community and the big crowd that came to hear him, the big news story, that everyone had been talking about, was about the 18 people in Jerusalem who were killed when a tower fell on them. But then, as Jesus is teaching, another news story is breaking, by word of mouth of course because they didn’t have radio or 24 hour news channels then. It’s a story of conflict and death. Did you hear, a number of people from Galilee were making sacrifices in the temple when Pilate’s armed forces moved in and killed them right there in the temple. All the eyes of the people turn to Jesus. They are looking to him for an answer to make sense of it.
I’m sure that they expected that he would explain why these things happened and what these people had done wrong to be punished this way. But he didn’t. Jesus doesn’t pronounce judgment on those that died. He did take the opportunity to tell them something that they need to hear.
“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.”” (Luke 13:3-6)
Jesus response is to remind the crowd around him of the inevitability of their own death, and the opportunity of every person, while alive, to make a choice of how they live. As Harold Percy observes in the first part of the Christianity 101 course, the mortality rate is always 100%, none of us gets out of this life alive (read this cheeky “news” story from The Onion). The news stories of Jesus’ day, just like so many of the news stories of our day, point to the uncertainty and fragility of life. Jesus knows that we have this chance to make our choices about how we are going to live our life. So, when Jesus answers their inquiring looks when the news comes in, he answers them with two important truths. Those people are now dead, how and why ever. The people who were listening to him now were alive and still have the opportunity to choose to follow God in Christ.
To make his point even clearer, Jesus follows up this teaching with the parable of A man who planted a fig tree. The man comes to his grown fig tree and expects to find fruit, but find none. Since this tree that has been planted in valuable soil and has been nurtured with precious water has bore him nothing he can eat or sell, he tells his gardener to cut it down. But the gardener asks for one more chance, to feed it and nurture it for one more year. The fig tree has another year of life and anther chance to produce good fruit.
What is good fruit? Well good fruit is best thing we can want for ourselves and best things that we can produce ourselves. Good Fruit is truly and deeply satisfying. For us as Christians this is exactly what Isaiah is pointing to in chapter 55 when he says, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:2) For us as Christians, Good Fruit is the message of the gospel when it takes root in our hearts and truly fills us. Jesus explains this in the parable of the sower in chapter 8 of Luke’s gospel when he explains about the seed that falls on good soil and how it is a parable for the gospel message that falls on the fertile soil of a person’s heart. Jesus says, “these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” (Luke 8:15) The Good fruit is what God gives us in Christ and Good Fruit is what we are called to bear in Christ’s Name.
The message that Jesus communicates to the crowd is that as they stand there that day that they too have the chance to produce good fruit. Jesus reminds them who had gathered that day, and indeed us today, that God is merciful, like the mercy shown by the gardener, that while we are alive, and while Jesus stands before us showing us the path of the Gospel, there is always a chance for us. An opportunity to receive the good fruits of the gospel and to fill ourselves and our lives with the things that really count, the things that really satisfy, and in turn allow us to produce good fruits of the gospel in our lives and to share them with those around us so that they too may receive the true blessings of a graceful God that are found by following Christ.