Readings: Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18, Philippians 3:17–4:1 & Luke 13:1–9
Today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel, follows an earlier series of prophetic warnings that Jesus has given to the crowds who have been gathering to hear him speak, while he is journeying toward Jerusalem and the destiny that awaits him there.
The essence of those particular warnings, is for people to change their ways while they still can. To repent, before they are faced with the Day of Judgement. The day on which they will be judged for their actions in this life. In today’s passage, Jesus uses the example of two events, that the crowds are familiar with, as further warnings for them to repent while they still have time.
The first of these events relates to the murder of a number of Galileans in the Temple in Jerusalem, an act which was carried out on the order of Pontius Pilate. These Galileans had obviously come to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to God, which was the accepted practice for Jewish people at that time.
We don’t know the reason for Pilate’s order, but he had them killed in the Temple while they were sacrificing to God, which is why we heard in the passage that “their blood is mingled with that of their sacrifices”.
Many other Jews thought of Galileans as second-class citizens. So perhaps there was little sympathy for these Galileans from other Jews. Perhaps other Jews believed the Galileans were being punished, because their sins were worse than the sins of other Jews? Jesus makes the point to the crowds, that this was not the case. Jesus tells the crowds, that unless they repent, then they too will perish, just like those Galileans in the Temple.
Similarly with the second example that he uses, which is the story of a tower in Siloam that fell on and killed eighteen people there. Jesus asks the crowds whether they believe those eighteen people were worse sinners than all other people living in Jerusalem. He then answers his own question by saying that they weren’t, and again he tells the crowds that unless they repent, then they too will perish, just like those in Siloam.
The crowds who were listening to Jesus, might have thought that they were more faithful and righteous than either the Galileans who were murdered in the Temple, or the eighteen people killed at Siloam. They might have thought that these other people had died because of their sins.
Perhaps we’ve encountered people like this in our own lives? I’ve heard the argument that the severe famines, which seem to be a frequent occurrence in some African countries, are a form of punishment for the sins of those African people. I’ve also heard similar arguments in relation to homelessness in Melbourne and our own inner city suburbs. That people are in these situations because of their sins.
Some people compare their own good fortune to the misfortune of others, and they attribute their good fortune to what they see as their own faithfulness and/or fruitfulness. It is for people such as this, that Jesus told the crowds the parable of the fig tree.
The owner of a vineyard planted a fig tree in his vineyard which has not produced any fruit at all in three years. So he tells the gardener to cut it down. But the gardener convinces the owner of the vineyard to leave the tree in his care for one more year, and that he will give the tree extra special attention and treatment for that year to see if can bear fruit.
People who attribute their good fortune to their own faithfulness or fruitfulness are, like the crowds who heard the parable from Jesus, the fig tree. They are living only by the grace of God, and the purpose of their living is that they might go on to be productive and to “bear fruit” for the kingdom of God.
Every Tuesday morning at 9.30am I conduct what I call “Spiritual Cafe”, at North and Eight cafe on Buckley Street. I meet there with whoever wants to come from the parish at St Andrew’s to have a coffee, and share in a spiritual reflection based on a specific spiritual reading for the day.
Last Tuesday, our reading was about wealth and good fortune, and one of the topics it addressed was the distribution of global wealth.
Based on the existing distribution of wealth, it suggested that if the current world population of over seven billion were to be reduced to a global village of one hundred people, eighty would be living in housing unfit for human habitation, seventy would be unable to read, fifty would be suffering from malnutrition, only one would have a college education, and six would control half the money of the entire village.
They’re pretty striking statistics aren’t they? Let me repeat them for you. If the current world population of seven billion were to be reduced to a global village of one hundred people, eighty would be living in housing unfit for human habitation, seventy would be unable to read, fifty would be suffering from malnutrition, only one would have a college education, and six would control half the money of the entire village. I think it’s probably fair to say that none of us fall into those categories of living in poverty.
But I wonder, do we ever stop to think that the reason we don’t, is simply due to the grace of God? The fact that we have been born here in a wealthy and affluent country like Australia? The fact that we have been born here, or that we are now living here, in the case of anyone who has migrated here from another country, means that we have access to a good education. We have access to a good health system with leading medical practices; reasonable opportunities for employment; access to housing; access to an abundance of good quality food; access to clean drinking water.
Imagine if we had been born into a family that lived on the land in East Africa, which has been experiencing a drastic famine for several years now. Or if we had been born into a family that was a member of an ethnic minority group such as the Karen people in Burma, or the Rohingya people in Myanmar, who have been victims of “ethnic cleansing”. What might our lives be like?
The suffering that these people have experienced has nothing to do with how faithful or fruitful they are. Neither does our good fortune, have anything to do with how faithful or fruitful we are.
This Season of Lent is a time for us to reflect on our own relationship with God. It is a time for us to give thanks to God for our good fortune. And as we reflect on our own good fortune we might like to think of those in the world who are less fortunate than us. We might like to pray for those who are less fortunate than us, and we might like to share some of our good fortune with them.
One very easy way to do this is by making a donation to one of the three appeals being supported by the Anglican Board of Mission. The giving envelopes for each are available in the narthex, so perhaps you might like to take one with you as you leave this morning.