, Lent 3C
Sunday March 3, 2013, St Petri
Believing is Seeing….
The Gracious Gardener
Living Water for our Idolatry
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
I was talking with a young couple with young kids a once. They told me a story about how things had been for them. They had lost a child before birth. The young mum said that in this loss she has wondered if God was punishing them. She had wondered why this had happened and if God was supposed to be so good, then how come this was so bad. Fair enough!
This particular couple are in some ways “close to the kingdom”, and somewhat open to the good news that God is at least meant to be gracious and good. But they were and probably still are struggling to believe this. Aren’t we all.
Many in our community, really do wonder if people who suffer tragedy or great loss are really being punished for some known or unknown sin. People harbour a vindictive God who is into payback. If you are not good enough, then you better watch out. Because if your naughty and not nice, then there will be no good gifts for you.
This view of vengeful divine judge who is only concerned with whether you are good or bad and who has little trouble inflicting punishment on you in the form of mishap, tragedy and pain is not only a modern belief. It was obviously one that many people in Jesus’ time held. It was big enough for them to ask Jesus what he thought about these two tragedies…..
No one really knows much about this event of the tower of Siloam in the Jerusalem falling in and killing eighteen people. But it obviously happened and had become a real sign that God was indeed present in the city – but not in goodness and grace – but pay-back and vengeance.
Same goes for this other deeply distasteful episode that seems to have been carried out by Pontius Pilate, the governor of the city and surrounding region of Judea. It seems that some rebellious Galileans from up in the North had made their presence felt to the local government ruler and he had dealt with them not only by imprisonment, torture and death penalty, but then to really make the point that disorder and wrong belief will not be tolerated, he took some of their human blood and mixed it in with the blood from goats, and sheep sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple for the worship services there. This would have completely defiled the temple and deeply insulted and offended the people.
Both events are tragic but different. One is an unforseen mishap causing death and its sorrow and grief. The other is pure vengeance. It is a overly harsh and very cruel punishment.
So the people of old and us now struggle to deal with life, especially when tragedy and/or injustice and cruelty are our experience. Is God uncaring, incapable or cruel?
When it is hard, when I am down, when tragedy comes my way, I catch myself also wondering “what have I done to deserve this?”
Have you uttered these words in prayer or to another?
God, have I not prayed enough? Have I made too many mistakes? Are you paying me back for THAT mistake, that sin? Am I cursed because of my troubled family? Have my ancestors sins comes to revisit me? Are young punishing me? Are you paying me back and teaching me a lesson I will not forget?
God, are those kind of people really bad – so much so that this has happened to them? Is this tragedy your work, God?
In response to these questions, this pain, this search for good, Jesus is quite direct, as he often is!
This talk of mishap and injustice as “Judgement on sin – especially other people’s sin is something to handle very carefully! “No-one is better or worse than anyone else in my view”, Jesus plainly says. Those sufferers of mishap even though guilty of sin are no worse than you and you are no worse than them. Those people and their families and a whole nation who were treated so harshly and unfairly did not deserve that any more than you.
What’s the message here for us? Avoid comparison to others at all costs. Comparison only gets you two places. “Woe is me for I am worse then he”, – Despair, or, “Woe is them for I am better than them” – arrogant superiority. Neither are true. We are not left in despair and we are not superior to anyone else in God’s eyes. Just loved! Comparison of being good or bad, better or worse than others will never bring life to our souls and to our church.
Friends, as we believe that we are no better or no worse, no more blessed or no more cursed than any other sinner, we can see that we truly live by the grace of God.
So, if comparing sins and suffering as punishment is not Jesus’ way, then what is? What is the better way – the Jesus way in our experience of random tragedy and unfair evil treatment? “Repent”, says Jesus. Turn and face God. Turn away from casting judgement on others with their sin that you think are worse than yours. They are not. Deal with Jesus one-on-one, never in comparison to others.
Repent. Turn toward the Lord in all humility and honesty about our mistakes and our brokenness and throw ourselves on his mercy.
Mercy? Is that how God receives all of us broken sinners? Really?
The young couple I listened to can’t quite believe this is possible. That is why they are close o the kingdom but not in it – not yet anyway – but there is time …….The hearers of Jesus probably struggled with this too. Is mercy really the response we get from God, the divine judge of all people?
Jesus is saying that humble and honest one-to-one and person to person repentance and trust in his goodness is truly Jesus’ prescription for despair, arrogance and warped belief.
He tells a little parable about a person who planted a fig tree in another man’s garden. The tree did not bear good fruit. So the guy who planted the tree comes to the owner and tells him the tale of woe.
“I have been coming here for three season looking for fruit from this tree and has not found one fig”, he says. He makes a judgement. He wants the owner to get rid of it. “Cut it down!. It is taking up valuable water and resources that other trees would use to bear fruit”.
The owner says. “Leave it one more season, mate. Give it some grace. Give it more time to bear the fruit you are looking for. If it does not show healthy fruit in that season, then, we will carry out your judgement on the tree”. Your judgement is right, but let it wait a little longer.”
With a useless tree that is bearing no fruit whatsoever and taking up valuable resources in God’s garden there is grace! Sure, there is truth. The tree is not bearing fruit. But there is grace that wins the day for another season.
The Gardener commits to giving me, the often fruitless tree, more time with him in the garden. He offers me more time to tend me, care for me, pour on the living water into my soul and help me sink deep roots into good soil – the soils of the gospel – Jesus – the face of God, the name of God, the presence of God.
He could just cut me down as God’s right judgement rightly determines. But he does not. In fact he promises that as a baptised child of God, I have already passed from the death of judgement to life in the garden with Jesus and his people forever!
Friends, can you believe? Will you believe that God is not that random and vindictive judge toward you or any other sinner? Can you believe that you and I are both planted in God’s good garden, the garden of life and love in Jesus and that he treats us equally, fairly, lovingly.
Can we truly believe that people like my couple who are on the edge of the garden?
And can we then see – because from belief in the god news comes new sight; can we see that they just need a tree in the God’s garden to bear the Spirit’s fruit with them – the fruit of acts and words of love, sharing of joy in being God’s, peace-making, forbearance of their story and their weakness, acts of kindness and goodness, and faithfulness to God’s Word (Galatians 5:22).
Friends, God is no unjust or vindictive judge paying us back for our wrongs. He is Father, Son, Spirit, the gracious Gardener working to tend us with his living word, his living water, so that we find our voice, our purpose our mission – to be bearers and bringers of good fruit in our places. Yes, the gardener needs to prune us back to keep us on track toward bearing good fruit – but not from a vengeful heart – only Jesus’ heart of love.
So, with Isaiah we gladly cry out to the people we know in and outside the garden of Godly delights –
“everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love… (Isaiah 55:1-3)