The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
Whether we’re guilty or not, it doesn’t feel good to be accused of wrong-doing. If you’re guilty, it brings on tons of shame regarding whatever you’ve done and if you’re innocent it causes all kinds of emotions of injustice. Our world is consumed by the idea of accusing each other, often times over things that really don’t matter or things that are far from ‘certain’. Look at politics. If you’re a conservative, you’re told constantly by liberals that you’re a heartless bigot who hates people different from you. If you’re a liberal, you’re told constantly by conservatives that you’re lazy, foolish, and hate your country. The accusations fly back and forth leading to more and more hate. Where does it all stop? Is this how people are really geared? It definitely seems like this is how the world wants us to think.
It turns out that in the Bible, Jesus was asked almost the exact question we now find ourselves asking the world: how could a loving God let these sorts of things happen? What is a believer to do during these trying times? Jesus’ answer is brilliant, but may not be ‘satisfying’ to some.
At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And he[a]responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. 4 Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.” (Luke 13:1-5)
Jesus finds himself talking about two tragedies that had recently occurred. One of them was a man-made disaster where Roman soldiers had slaughtered several worshipers at the temple. The other was a natural disaster where a tower fell on several people who were on their way to the temple. In both instances, the people seemed to innocent. Why should disaster fall on these people? What did they do to deserve this?
The problem is in the question. Typical of how Jesus often responded to questions, he changes the terms of the conversation. He says, ‘did any of these people carry more sin than the other?’ The answer is an obvious ‘no’. What he’s doing is establishing that the question “what did these people do to deserve this” isn’t fundamentally flawed because no one’s sin is “great”… everyone’s sin is infinite. Think about it. All of us are sinners deserving of death. There is no ‘just’ reason why any of us deserve to live another moment than we have already been given. If that is the case, our response to natural disaster shouldn’t be “how could God let this happen to THEM” but rather “why did God decide to spare ME?” See how that changes the question? It’s a heavy concept to understand, but it’s crucial to understanding how we look at natural and man-made disasters in the news and in our communities.
Jesus takes the concept and explains it using a parable.
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’
8 “But he replied to him, ‘Sir,[b] leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)
Remember, none of us are ‘owed’ extra time on earth. Every moment we are given is a blessing from above. In this parable, Jesus explains this by comparing us in our sinful state to a fig tree which has not produced fruit. The gardener makes a perfectly rational and ‘just’ decision to cut the fruitless fig tree down, but the owner decides, in his wisdom and mercy, to spare the fig tree to see if it would produce fruit. This means that the time we have compels us to ‘produce fruit’. It encourages us to step out in our faith and repent of our ‘fruitless’ lives pursuing things of this world.
So where does this leave us in the face of tragedy? Do we lament? Do we protest? Do we question God? Jesus’ own response tells us that what we should really being doing is recognizing that there is no reason why we are not one of those victims aside from God’s infinite grace and mercy and the extra time we have been given is time we have to produce fruit. Where do we get started in producing fruit? By repenting and turning from our sinful ways.