Luke 13:1-9 gives us a couple of Jesus stories that, at first, don’t seem to fit together. First, we hear the disciples asking Jesus about a horrific act carried out against their community: Pontius Pilate slaughtered some Jewish Galileans at the temple in Jerusalem. “Why?” they ask Jesus. “Why can such a horrific thing be allowed to happen?”
But rather than answering them, Jesus adds yet another tragedy to the catalogue of suffering: “Didn’t you hear about the big tower at Siloam that fell over and killed eighteen people?”
Two-thousand years later, the headlines continue to shock and disturb us: hundreds of thousands killed off by a novel virus; natural disaster, war, and terror continue to claim the lives of innocent people all around the world. We want to know, “Why? Why does this have to happen?”
But Jesus rejects our desire for easy answers. Jesus says “no” to any attempt to explain away other peoples’ misfortune, or pain. Those who were murdered in their house of worship, those crushed by a collapsing tower – they were no less beloved, no less good, no more ready to die than any of us. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than others?” Jesus asks. “No, I tell you!”
After all, the story we travel through Lent finds its climax on the cross: the only human who was literally without sin still met a horrible death. Being good is not what saves us. Those who we read about in our headlines were good, decent, and died too soon. We all know and love someone who died too soon.
So Jesus suggests repentance. After all, repentance is a practice that roots us more firmly in the soil of today. It keeps us honest when we fall short and daily names our need – and gratitude – for God. Repentance reminds us everything is a gift.
Enter the parable of the fig tree. The fig tree has not been growing figs. “Cut it down,” says the landowner. But the gardener (and remember that the risen Jesus appears to Mary as a gardener!), the gardener says, “No, let’s give it another year. Let’s put down some manure and give it one more year.”
Do you hear what this gardener is saying about this poor, dead tree? In the face of death, he opts for an act of hope and faith. One more year, one more year, one more year.
When our WHYs hold us captive to the fear of death, we have a God whose pardon, forgiveness, and love will always go on for one more year, and then another, and another. Because finally, by the grace of God, we are called to bear fruit that feeds the world, to repent so that our neighbors might thrive.
Prayer: Lord, make me a fig tree. Help me to bear fruit that feeds, heals, and loves this world. And, when I am too tired or scared to bear such fruit, grant me your everlasting pardon and mercy. Walk with me through this day, and all the days that are to come, until I rest eternally in your wide and loving embrace. Amen.