On the surface Luke 13:1-9 is a little cryptic. There is a lot of talking about a lot of things that aren’t exactly clear or seemingly even related. Once the context of verses 1 through 5 have been made clear, however, its relationship to the parable of the fig tree becomes evident. Jesus is teaching the crowds that gather around him a lesson on God’s mercy towards fallen humanity and the expediency they should have for reconciliation with the Divine.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea during the time of Jesus. In several incidents Pilate incited the Jews of Jerusalem to protest by violating Jewish religious sensibilities. The incident mentioned in verse 1 is exactly one such incident. While faithful Jews were peacefully worshiping God in the temple, Pilate had them killed for political reasons. Why we are not told here, but it was certainly a politically hot topic during this moment of Jesus’s ministry. The crowd would want to know if Jesus would side with the Roman authorities or the Jewish people. Further, the faithful in the crowd would also want to know if those who died in the temple died as a result of God’s judgement against their sins.
Jesus, as he often does, circumvents a dangerous political answer by moving the conversation to a longer view. Taking the concern of judgement from the faithful, Jesus brings the reality of fallen humanity to the forefront. The Jews killed in the temple were no more unrighteous than anyone else. Everyone is fallen and in need of God’s mercy. To say that those who were killed by Rome in God’s temple were killed in judgement would mean that people killed in obviously judgement-free ways – like the people who died when a city tower fell – where also judged by God. Resisting the crowd’s interpretation of events, Jesus makes it clear that everyone is fallen from the grace of God and deserves judgement. The fact that only a handful have perished is a sign of God’s mercy. It is a call to repentance for those living.
Jesus says that those in the crowd are like a fig tree that isn’t growing any fruit. Fig trees were created in a particular way by God for a purpose. Fig trees grow figs from their branches. Though they are nice trees in and of themselves, if they are not producing figs they are not serving their intended purpose. No sane person would continue to water and feed a fig tree that wasn’t producing fruit. Eventually a fig tree this isn’t producing fruit, will be cut down so that something else can be grown in its place.
People, in the same way as the fig tree, were created by God in a particular way for a purpose. We were created to be in relationship with God producing the fruits that come through his love. If humanity is not producing the fruits of love, we are not serving our intended purpose. Likewise, God will not forever tolerate our isolation from him and our lack of love.
In the vineyard the vinedresser speaks on behalf of the barren fig tree. He asked the master for a little more time. With some work the vinedresser can make the tree grow figs. For humanity, Jesus is our vinedresser. On our behalf he asks the Father for more time. Jesus teaches us to love and shows us the way to restored relationship with God. Through Jesus Christ all of humanity can bear the fruits of God’s love. Even Jesus, however, cannot extend humanity’s time indefinitely. A time must come when those who are not reconciled with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must be excluded from the life now so freely given. Eternal life comes only through relationship with God. Outside of this relationship, everyone will die.
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