Is it just me, or is the cultural chasm between “left” and “right” widening by the month? On social media especially, accusations of ignorance and ill motive are thrown about more casually than ever. It’s even common now to see people gloat when their rivals suffer misfortune.
Take a deep breath. This isn’t just the climate of politics in 2020. It’s a condition of the human heart. Jesus encountered it regularly, and He wasn’t afraid to call it out.
In Luke 13:1-9, He does just this. In what almost reads like a heated Twitter thread, Jesus confronts those who were quick to judge. In fact, He confronts us all. He reminds us that there is a God who judges—and if that’s true, our judgments of each other matter little by comparison.
The idea that we will be judged by a perfectly just God is uncomfortable to us humans. It’s so uncomfortable in fact, that we tend to tell ourselves myths about it. In the passage below, Jesus quite happily blows these myths right out of the water.
Jesus reminds us that judgment is coming to every person, so each of us needs to check ourselves and humble our hearts before God. The question is, will you pass the test? And will you let Jesus dismantle any myths you might be believing?
The first myth that Jesus dismantles is the “They Had It Coming” myth. A local news story had been making the rounds, so Jesus’ disciples asked Him about it:
1 About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple.
2 “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered?
3 Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.”
Pilate was a violent leader, given to bursts of outrage. He was a Roman governor—part of the foreign empire that had marched into Israel and imposed itself on the Jewish people.
A group of Jews must have somehow upset Pilate, so in an act of revenge, Pilate had them killed. Worse still, he had their blood mixed with the animal sacrifices that the Jews normally offered at their temple. To Jews, this was shocking sacrilege.
“Surely this had to be an act of God’s judgment!” was what Jesus’ disciples were thinking to themselves. “They must have been horrible people since God punished them so fiercely.”
We moderns are much more reluctant to invoke God than the ancients were. But our logic follows the same pattern. “They had it coming to them,” is the way we would express the same idea today.
But this, Jesus says, is a myth. It’s simply not our place to draw a link between specific sins and specific suffering in someone’s life. You can’t measure a person’s guilt by how much they suffer. Other religions do this and call it ‘karma’—but it’s not God’s view on the world, and it shouldn’t be ours either.
Notice, though, that Jesus still draws a curious link between sin and suffering: “You will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” What does He mean by this?
The human race suffers collectively because of collective human guilt. In Adam and Eve, we all rebelled against God. As their descendants, we have willingly kept this rebellion alive. That’s the link between sin and suffering. And there’s only one way to escape the rebellion: repenting of our sins and turning to God.
That’s what we should be most concerned about, Jesus says, before we judge the lives of others. It’s humbling, but it’s what we need to hear.
The second myth that Jesus puts a bomb under is the “Others Are Worse” myth. To do so, Jesus refers to another recent tragedy that had taken place in a nearby district:
4 “And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?
5 No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
The tower of Siloam was most likely part of a water reservoir built in to the walls of Jerusalem city. Presumably these 18 people died when a weakness in the wall developed and it burst apart.
So here we have two disasters: a political tragedy, and a natural catastrophe. And Jesus points to both to give us the same stern warning: Judge yourself before you judge others.
But Jesus is also busting another myth here. Built into the human heart—mine at least—is this tendency we have to think others are more deserving of God’s judgment than I am. There are worse sinners out there than me is a surefire way we excuse our sin and ease our guilty conscience.
While it’s obvious that different sins have different consequences, Jesus doesn’t waste His words. In effect He tells his disciples, “Your astonishment is misplaced. Don’t be astonished that the tower fell on the people in Jerusalem. Be astonished that it didn’t fall on you—and that you still have time to get your hearts right before God.”
Far more important than us speculating about people “worse than us” is the response we ourselves have towards God. That’s what really matters: a humble heart. At the end of the day, everything else is just a distraction.
Finally, Jesus confronts the “Plenty of Time” myth.
6 Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed.
7 Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’
8 “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertiliser.
9 If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
What is Jesus getting at? The fig tree, it would seem, represents anyone who has heard the truth about God, but it is making no difference to how they live. Apathy has overtaken their lives. They have abandoned any spiritual urgency, believing that there’s “Plenty of Time” to live for God later in life.
Could that be you?
We have heard about Jesus. Many of us were raised in a country immensely blessed by Jesus and his teachings. So much of the education and healthcare and freedoms and “fair go” we have in Australia grew directly out of the Christian worldview. And still today, the Bible and its life changing message is freely available to us.
So has all this made a difference in our lives? Are we bearing fruit? Are we living to honour God? Or is all this care that God’s been putting into us going to waste? “I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit,” Jesus said in John 15. He is passionate about us living productive, purposeful lives.
For both the fig tree and us, there simply is no guarantee of a tomorrow. We don’t know when our life is coming to an end, or how many more days God will give us.
But God has given us a time extension, like the landowner with his fig tree. You and I find ourselves in a period of grace. We are living on borrowed time. We don’t know what the rest of our days will look like. So let’s humble ourselves. Let’s use our time wisely, and live wholly for God.
Notice that Jesus never tells us the end of the parable—we never find out what happens to the fig tree. It is Jesus’ masterful way of asking us what we’re going to do with the rest of our story.
So how is your story going to end? Will you go on to bear fruit?
There is hope, because the perfect Judge is also our patient Gardener. He doesn’t just demand results; He lovingly labours for our vitality and growth. He is invested in our fruitfulness more than we are.
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