Of Church Boycotts and Fig Trees

Far too many followers of Jesus think that the bad things in your life are a direct result of your sin. And the worse the things happening to you, the worse you've sinned. You're probably aware of a certain church (I'm not going to even dignify naming them) that boycotts funerals for soldiers and other events with signs reading "God hates fags." They seem to believe that people's grief over the loss of a loved one is the result of God's judgment on sins--especially homosexuality. Personally, those people really make me mad.

Tonight at church we heard two seemingly odd sections from Luke (13:1-9, NLT):
About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
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. 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.’“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
Unfortunately some Bibles title the first section as "Repent or Perish." While this message is there--that without turning away from our sins and turning to God we will face eternal death--Pastor Jan pointed out that it's not the main message.

While Jesus was in the midst of His ministry, at the end of His life, Pilate had gone into the Temple where Galileans where offering sacrifices and mixed their blood in with those of their offerings. The people felt that this was clearly because they had sinned somehow--that bad things could happen to good people, so clearly they had been quite sinful. But Jesus says this isn't the case. It's a level playing field. We're all sinners. We all need to repent. And what happens to us is just the result of life (and yes, sin has created a fallen world where bad things do happen, but there isn't a direct correlation between the badness of what happens to us and the badness of our sins).

It's not just a certain boycotting church that is at fault here. We all do it. We make judgments. We come up with reasons why someone is suffering the way they are. "Well, they've been spending their money recklessly." "She clearly was asking for it." "He shouldn't have been so spineless or he wouldn't have lost his job." We all need to repent; we all fall short. No matter what a small group of people do with their picket signs, my actions of love should speak more loudly.

So after setting the people straight about current events in first century Palestine, Jesus goes on to tell this this story about a tree that's not bearing fruit. It doesn't seem to have any correlation to the current events in Israel at the time or to the question of how is suffering related to the level of sin in our lives. But here's what Jesus seems to be saying: we may not always bear fruit (or do good works) in our life. Our lives may seem fruitless, that there's so much sin present that we should be "chopped down." But God isn't going to give up on us. He's going to patiently wait until we do bear fruit. He's going to care for us like that gardener who tries to do all he can to help the tree to produce fruit. And therein lies the hope of grace. The gardener, who is intimately connected to the tree, vows to care for it and fertilize it with the hope that it will produce figs the next year. He sees potential where the landowner only saw a waste of space. We all have potential.

I guess with God's care and patience--if we turn from our sins and turn toward Him--we too can give a fig. So to speak.

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