Reading: Luke 13.1-9
There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He 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 round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’
Pontius Pilate was not a very nice man. For those who know the story of Holy Week and Jesus’ crucifixion this statement will sound obvious, almost not worth re-stating. However, for those who do not know their Christian history, it is worth saying again: Pontius Pilate was not a very nice man. The Roman historian Josephus gives us several accounts of the abominations carried out by Pilate which could easily leave us wondering why he comes across as being uncertain, and potentially lenient, when it comes to his handling of Jesus.
Having said that about Pilate, we can now turn our attention to Jesus in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel. Jesus is journeying towards Jerusalem. As he journeys he is constantly hearing the news of what is happening on the road ahead. Today’s news is particularly gruesome, with its talk of sacrifices and the blood of Galileans. Surely, those with whom Jesus was travelling were trying to discourage him from going on with his journey.
Of course, Jesus is not going to be deterred from making the journey he knows that he has to make, but as he travels he warns those around him of the dangers they will face if they do not change their ways. For Jesus, crucifixion and resurrection lay ahead, but what about his followers? In the face of Roman violence there was a strong urge within the Jewish community to fight back, to attempt to overthrow their oppressors with the violence that was being used on them. This was a nonsense to Jesus. The Jews stood no chance at all of defeating a highly trained and efficiently brutal military machine, and such violence was in direct opposition to God’s plan for humanity.
The parable of the fig tree emphasizes Jesus’ desire for us all to repent, to turn and follow him, no matter how difficult that may seem. Jesus is saying there is still time for us to change, but that that time in which change can be effected is not without its limits. Jesus will die on the cross and Jesus will rise from the dead. Jesus will ascend to his Father in heaven, and Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. There is the moment when we need to have heard and responded to God’s call. As we heard earlier in the week, we do not know when the moment of Jesus’ second coming will be upon us. So, what are we doing to set aside the ways of this world in order that we might be ready to face our Lord and Saviour on the Day of Judgement? Are we still not ready to face the trials and tribulations of this life in the certainty of the eternal life that is offered to all who are faithful to their Christian calling?