Luke 13:1-9
God's Great Patience

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Make It Your Business

1.  To begin, let's read from verses one to five.  "Just then, several persons came and told Jesus that Pilate mixed the blood of some Galileeans with their sacrifices.  Jesus replied, 'Do you suppose the reason those Galileeans met with such a misfortune was they were more sinful than any other Galileean?  That is just not the case.  I declare this, unless you yourselves repent, you will all be destroyed the same way.  Also, as for the eighteen persons who died when the tower of Siloam fell, do you think they were more sinful than any other persons who had been living in Jerusalem?  That is just not the case.  I declare this, unless you yourselves repent, you will all be destroyed the same way.'," (13:1-5).

2.  A group of people told Jesus about a terrible thing that happened recently.  It was that Pontius Pilate, the governor over the Jews, had mixed Galileean blood with their sacrifices.  But then again we shouldn't take this literally.  Most likely it meant that some of Pilate's soldiers had slaughtered some Galileeans who had been in the temple presenting some sacrifices.  Because of making reference to "sacrifice," it is believed that it was probably at the time of a festival when the incident occurred.  Since this particular situation has no record of its occurrence in any historical documents outside the scriptures, the circumstances are not clear to our understanding.  Even though Pilate was known for his brutality a number of times, since he never just outright killed Jews for no reason, they think he probably had some political reason behind what he did.  They think this because it says on purpose in the text about them that they were "Galileeans."  Galilee was a hotbed of the Zealot party, an anti-Roman armed resistance group, and it was the center at that time for that movement.  There had probably been a small scale insurrection with weapons during the commotion of the festival and it was an incident which Pilate had to suppress with force.

3.  Regardless of what happened the fact is this, the incident of some persons who had come from Galilee to present sacrifices getting themselves killed by Roman soldiers must have been quite a shocking thing to happen for the Jews.  "Why did God let such a brutal massacre take place?  How could it ever happen that Gentiles would murder Jews in a holy place?"  Such questions arose quite naturally as you'd expect.  Or maybe there were some who thought like this, "The reason they met up with such disaster must be because they were such bad sinners.  They may have fooled man, but not God.  God has judged them."  This idea of being paid for what you deserve, the law of retribution based on works is widespread among people.  The people who told Jesus about this incident looked like they were having the same thoughts as the kind of person who sees divine justice being carried out on victims of disasters.  So, the Lord responded back to these people who were thinking like this with "Do you suppose the reason those Galileeans met with such a misfortune was because they were more sinful than any other Galileean?"

4.  This exchange between them is written without much affect, but when we read the part before it, it seems that their report sticks out like a sore thumb and was so far off.  The text says, "Just then."  So what was Jesus saying "just then" [before]?  He was telling the people, "O hypocrites, although you know how to discern the patterns of the sky and the land, why don't you discern the time now?," (12:56).  What hour is "the time now?"  It is shown in what he says later.  The Lord says, "When you go to an official with someone who accuses you, strive to reconcile with him along the way there," (12:58).  In other words, "the time now" is "the hour we're supposed to be reconciling."  It is not just a story of [one] person reconciling with [another].  It tells of reconciliation with God.  Even though it says reconciliation [and implies two at fault], when it comes to things between God and a person, the only one at fault is the human being.  Thus, this is the meaning behind [it's] time for us to turn to God, the hour we're supposed to repent.  Another way of saying it is that each listener there in attendance was being called into account for his or her own sins.  It was an hour in which God was making an appeal for repentance to each one.

5.  It was "just then."  Then several people began to say it was not meant for them, but for other people.  This meant that they began to talk about whether those other people were sinful or not.  How far off they were!  But, that's how people are.  We're always ready to evade being pulled before the word of God for accountability.  We're more than ready to cop out when it comes to standing before the word of God and having our own way of life called into account and having our own decisions questioned.  That's when we start talking about everybody else's sins.  Or we begin to discuss sin and repentance in generalities as a broad topic.  That way we no longer are put in a position of being a judged people.

6.  Therefore, the Lord tries to pull them back one more time into the call of God that has been addressed to them and so he says, "Do you suppose the reason those Galileeans met with such a misfortune was that they were more sinful than any other Galileean?  That is just not the case.  I declare this, unless you yourselves repent, you will all be destroyed the same way."  In other words, he is saying to them that when God ultimately executes his righteous judgment of sinners, you, yes you, will be the ones who will then be at the judgment.

Now Is The Time Of Grace

7.  Then the Lord went on to say more with one of his parables.  Please see verses six [through nine].  "And Jesus spoke the following parable:  'A certain man had planted a fig tree in his vineyard, and he came to find some fruit on it, but he didn't see any.  Then he said to the gardener, Although you have been coming to seek fruit on this fig tree for three years already, there has never been a time when you found any.  So cut it down.  Why waste this soil?  The gardener answered, My dear sir, please let it be like it is for this year.  I will dig up around the tree and try giving it some fertilizer.  Then maybe with that some fruit might come next year.  If things go bad after that, please cut it down.'", (13:6-9).

8.  The text says vineyard but since in substance it was an orchard it wasn't unnatural to have a fig tree planted in it.  Things were typically done [like that].  The point being emphasized here, to be brief, is that the fig tree had been planted in a good place and was given maintenance.  It wasn't some tree that grew along the roadside somewhere.  And as would be natural, the person who planted it was waiting and expecting figs to come from it.  But, his expectations were betrayed greatly.  And it wasn't just once either.  It says in the text it was "for three years already."  This means that he had been let down over and over again.

9.  The relationship between God and a human being that we see in the Bible is not just a relationship where a person believes in God.  God believes in the person.  God believes in people and does his best for them.  He is hoping for them to respond authentically and sincerely to his trust in them.  But, his hopes are betrayed.  The lamenting voice of God, who has been betrayed over and over again, fills the Bible throughout it.  The prophet Isaiah sang a lament of God as follows:  "A song of love of a vineyard will I sing for my beloved.  My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hilll.  Well tilled and rockless, he planted a good vine.  He set up a lookout tower in the middle of it, dug out a winepress and waited for it to produce good grapes.  But it yielded a soured grape.  ...What should I do for the vineyard, what have I not yet done for it?  Even though I have waited for good grapes to come, why did sour ones come?," (Isaiah 5:1-4).

10.  In this parable today we shouldn't imagine God as just a short tempered and coldhearted judge.  As we look in the Old Testament, behind this parable are the deep cries of a God who has had his hopes betrayed continuously.  The tree, which the master will have to cut down, is not some tree that somebody else had planted.  It is the tree that he himself, not someone else, had planted and had been hoping to see some fruit from it.  Cutting down that tree was truly a sad thing for the master, wasn't it?

11.  But then, this speech is not really an outline of a fig tree getting cut down.  It leads to the persuasive part from the gardener, who said, "My dear sir, please let it be like it is for this year.  I will dig up around the tree and try giving it some fertilizer."  In this text, we should not simply think of the master as standing for God the Father and the gardener as standing for Jesus Christ.  It is a completely unbiblical idea to say God the Father is a God of wrath and judgment and Christ is a God of love and forgiveness.  Because the Bible shows us that it was God the Father himself and none other than he who had sent Christ into the world.  Just as in other cases in Christ's parables, we should not put meanings on each and every charachter in the plot and read into it symbolically, but we should see in all the stories God's "compassion, tolerance and great patience," (Romans 2:4).  In other words, the main point of this tale is originally about a fruitless tree that should rightfully be cut down, but will it still be left behind and stay up.

12.  So, the parable of Jesus ends with the words of the gardener.  It doesn't say what happened at the end of the year, or whether it yielded any fruit or if it was cut down.  What might that imply?  It means that anyone who has heard this parable is the one who is to tell the next part of the story.  It [doesn't mean] somebody else, [but you and me].  Whether it ends as a story of a cut down tree or we tell a story of a fruitful tree depends on the person who heard it.  The message of repentance is being given directly to us, yes right to us indeed, and we ourselves are being drawn right before the word of God to stand.  We should not say [like we have been] that it's not my business.

13.  At the conclusion of this gospel, the risen Christ spoke like this to his disciples, "And Jesus opended the eyes of their hearts so as to enlightened them in the scriptures and said, 'Thus it is written. The messiah will experience suffering and rise from the dead on the third day.  And then repentance to let one obtain forgiveness of sin will be proclaimed to the peoples of every nation according to his name.'  Begining from Jerusalem you will be witnesses of these things," (Luke 24:35-48).  Our church also is here today due to the long line that goes back to the words of the Lord's promise.  Repentance for the forgiveness of sin will be proclaimed to the peoples of every nation according to his name.  Even today, in this place as well, repentance for the remission of sins is being proclaimed in the name of the Lord Jesus.  We, who by nature rightfully should have been cut down long long ago, should respond with great reverence to God for the fact we are still here and for the riches of God's tolerance and great patience which has been revealed in all this.  And we should [be sure] not to make waste of this time of grace in which the gospel is still being proclaimed to us now.

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