Friday, October 21, 2016

WARNING -- AND ENCOURAGEMENT


Homily for Oct. 22nd, 2016: Luke 13:1-9.

Jesus= hearers tell him about two recent disasters: an atrocity perpetrated by the hated Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; and a construction accident which had killed eighteen unsuspecting people. In Jesus= day people assumed that the victims of such tragedies were being punished for their sins. Twice over Jesus contradicts this view. The victims were no worse sinners than anyone else, Jesus says. But their deaths were a warning, Jesus says: AI tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!@ The story which follows, about a farmer and his barren fig tree, drives home this warning.

Fig trees grew wild in Palestine in Jesus= day. A newly planted fig tree takes three years to bear fruit. So when the owner of this fig tree tells his gardener that he has been looking for fruit from it for three years, this means it had been there for six years in all. The order to cut it down was entirely reasonable. The gardener is an example of the incurable optimist. He wants to dig round it, to allow the rain to reach the roots, and to fertilize the tree. Nowhere in Scripture do we find any reference to fig trees being cultivated or fertilized. The gardener is suggesting extraordinary, heroic measures. He agrees with his employer, however, that if the tree is still without fruit after another year, it will have to come down.

The story contains a warning, but also encouragement. God is like the owner of the fig tree, Jesus is saying. God looks for results. There will be a day of reckoning. That is the warning. But God is also patient. He is willing to wait. He will even wait longer than necessary. Behind the figure of the gardener in the story C pleading for one more growing season, for extraordinary, heroic measures C we glimpse Jesus himself. Jesus, our elder brother and our best friend, knows our weakness. If we haven=t done too well up to now, Jesus pleads on our behalf for more time. That is the story=s message of encouragement.

In the gardener=s suggestion to wait one more year, to use extraordinary measures, we see God=s patience and generosity. In the agreement of owner and gardener alike, that if the tree remains without fruit another year, it must be cut down, Jesus warns us of the certainty judgment.

God’s judgment is not the adding up of the pluses and minuses in some heavenly book. It is simply God’s ratification of choices we make every day: for God, his love, his goodness, and his light; or our choice to reject those things. If we are trying to choose Him, the Lord God who loves us beyond our imagining things, need not fear judgment. We can be confident.