THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 3
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Luke 9:35, 13:1-9
What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”
How easy it is to fall into the religion of “niceness” or simply “being good.” Like many in our own day, the people of Luke’s time generally believed that those who suffered did so as a punishment for sin and those who found themselves blessed deserved such blessings because of their own good behavior. Jesus describes both a political massacre of people who were killed by Pilate’s order as well as an event we might consider a natural disaster, the collapse of a tower which also killed many people. The point is that regardless of the cause of these tragedies, whether the result of someones sinful violence or an accident beyond anyone’s control, their deaths were undeserved. Victims of such tragedies are not held up as examples of divine justice or punishment.
Sadly, we still have preachers today proclaiming God’s wrath every time tragedy strikes. It does seem ironic, however, that when hundreds or even thousands of innocent people are killed by a hurricane, it is interpreted as God’s wrath on the entire city or nation (like New Orleans or Haiti) but when children are shot in a school, no one bears responsibility except that one unsuspected madman who somehow got his hands on a gun he shouldn’t have had.
Jesus warns us not to make such judgments about the wrath of God and reminds us that we might just as easily become innocent victims tragedy. Guilty or not guilty makes no difference when it comes to the timing or circumstances of our death.
But there also seems to be a bigger issue at play when Jesus tells the parable of this innocent fig tree. The tree is still alive, and because it has survived, the assumption is that it has not been subject to God’s judgment. This is like the person whose house is the only one left standing in the neighborhood after a tornado saying, “I guess God was looking out for me.” Was God not looking out for all the other people who were harmed around you? Were you really the only innocent person in the neighborhood worthy to be spared? And then things get even more complicated when we find out that that one person who was spared happens to be the most greedy, mean-spirited neighbor on the block while all the nice people lost everything.
The fig tree may be spared for another year, just like that person whose house was not destroyed by the storm. But we must be careful.
First, we must not assume that our salvation implies judgment or condemnation on those who have suffered or on the trees that have already died. Secondly, we must not assume that just because we were spared that everything is OK and that we are blessed. That’s not how this works.
God may show us mercy for a time so that he can care for us more closely, offering more fertilizer or pruning, but in the end we cannot go on as we have been and expect to just exist forever without bearing fruit. This is true of our individual lives and certainly true of our churches. We must bear fruit or we will die. Let us stop looking at everybody around us thinking we have it so much better and therefore we are “off the hook”. We must focus more on our own growth. We must become trees that bear good fruit, or nothing will save us in the end.
Don’t let God’s mercy be an excuse to stay the way you are. Become the person or the church that God wants you to be, bearing good fruit, for we never know when our last day might come.
Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.
2 Peter 3:8-9