Exodus 3, 1-8 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 10, 1-6, 10-12 + Luke 13, 1-9
February 28, 2016 at Saint Peter Church & St William Church in Naples, FL.
If taken seriously, the first part of this Gospel text is the end to any thinking that God punishes people in this life. I have never believed that, and I have been stunned too many times by people who think or say: “They got what they deserved” suggesting that some tragedy or disaster had God’s punishing hand behind it. That’s what these righteous people are suggesting to Jesus when they come up to him with that question about the slaughter of some Galileans. When you consider that these upright citizens of Jerusalem looked down on those backward Galileans as being of less value and importance than they were, you can almost feel them tense up when Jesus turns the tables on them by asking if they also think that the disaster in Jerusalem suggested that nice and upright citizens of Jerusalem were also being punished for something. Disasters and catastrophes are never signs of God’s anger toward sinful individual people. Jesus says that this is nonsense. Neither good fortune nor calamities are indicators of one’s favor or disfavor with God. In an age to come God will judge the hearts of every soul regardless of their situation in life.
With that in mind, the second part of this Gospel text begins to make real sense and convey a powerful message to us all. I like to call this the “Gospel of the Second Chance.” We are that fig tree. God is the owner of this vineyard, and Jesus is the caretaker or gardener whose work and word among us provides our second chance because there will be, in the age to come, a harvest, and we had better be producing.
There is perhaps a third part to this Gospel being told or written here today. We are a people who are broken and too often barren. We have not produced the fruit of justice or of peace. We have not satisfied the hungry of this world who hunger for dignity and respect or for forgiveness and understanding as well as for clean water and food. We have not protected the vulnerable and given them the chance to live. Tragedies and repeated struggles cut down our lives and leave us worn, tired, and discouraged. In spite of all of this, God continues to plant in our midst opportunities to start over, to try again, to rework things, to move beyond our hurt and pain to make things right. This is the God revealed and proclaimed by these verses from Luke’s Gospel. There is no God of vengeance here. There is a God of mercy. Who waits one more time for us to get it right.
The time will come for judgement and perhaps for punishment for those who have not seized the chance to start over and try again; but that time is not here. This time is for something else, mercy. The fig tree is an invitation to hope in the unlimited love and mercy of God. This third part of the Gospel is our time to discover again the spark of humanity within us that reflects the image of God Jesus has revealed: an image that makes us loving, compassionate human beings able to realize our life’s harvest.