Life in this world is filled with terrible calamities and injustices. Many of you have heard me from time to time reflect upon the dear senior pastor of my youth who had such an effect upon my life through his encouragement. And you may recall my accounting of the story as to how he was tragically killed in a head-on collision with a truck – the driver being impaired in some fashion.
One of this pastor’s sons was my first-year college roommate, though he was actually two years ahead of me in school. He is now the president of an evangelical denomination called The Bible Fellowship Church. His younger brother – my exact age – is now an evangelist, having previously been a pastor for many years.
This younger of the sons had a son who was likewise a pastor, so if you’re keeping score, that is three generations of pastors. He was in his early years of ministry in a church in New Mexico when one evening a drunk driver going the wrong way on an interstate killed him in a head-on collision. Totally tragic – leaving a young wife and child.
How can this happen? Why doesn’t God stop these sorts of events? Well, that’s a long answer, the short version being that these events are the sad realities for all of us in a fallen world; and God does answer ultimately – it’s called “heaven.”
But here is what you would have heard from the majority of Jewish people in the time of Christ. They would say that when something like this befell someone, it was because of sin in their lives or in their family – that it was a just recompense for some unknown iniquity. There are several passages in the gospels that counter this viewpoint.
In today’s portion, conversation is brought to Jesus about some event where certain Galileans where slaughtered in Jerusalem by Pilate at the time they were there for sacrifice. The details are unknown to us; social and political tensions abounded in those days even as they do in that region of the world in our own time.
Jesus also mentions another incident, unknown beyond this text, where a group of 18 people were the victims of a tower in Siloam randomly crashing upon them.
To each of these situations, Jesus says that these poor victims were not worse people than other around them (contrary to conventional religious thinking). Tragedies happen in an imperfect world. There are no guarantees. But something that is guaranteed is that those who do not repent spiritually are guaranteed to face judgment.
Illustrating this further is the additional words of Christ as he tells a parable about a non-productive fig tree. If I understand my dendrology (no extra charge for using that word again), it takes three years for a fig tree to produce fruit. The owner said to get rid of it as it was just taking up space, but the orchardist asks to give it one more year for additional fertilization and opportunity to produce.
The point is that the nation of Israel had not been producing the fruit of repentance, and in fact they were living in a period of grace wherein they could trust in Christ as the Promised One. But … but … but … judgment was soon coming.
But … but … but … judgment is coming; Jesus will return. And even Billy Graham passes away. The daily extension of our lives represents God’s extended grace to us to live in repentance and in production of the fruit of the life of Christ in us.
So let us use our granted time well – to be in right relationship with God and in his active service throughout the days God graciously gives us.
Luke 13:1 – Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”