Reflection on Luke 13: 1-9

As we travel through Lent, our Gospel reading, yet again, is strangely relevant to today.

It is in two parts – the first a brief discussion on when bad things happen, whether because of a brutal ruler like Pilate has had people killed and humiliated, or because an accident has caused deaths, though today we would want a Health and Safety review and sue somebody. Today too many are killed in war and in violence, whether Russian missiles or Central American gangs or  ..

Today some are killed in accidents, their lives cut short. And equally some flourish and win the lottery. Jesus reminds us that these events do not map onto either our sin or our being blessed, and all of us, at some point, but inevitably will face death and judgement. It is however only a partial answer, not an explanation.

In the second part of the reading we also have destruction and judgement, but this time directed by the owner of the vineyard at the fruitless fig-tree. The vineyard and the fig-tree are Old Testament images of Israel and the challenge is that God’s people are not bearing fruit, are not showing the signs of “life” that they should. In the first section we wonder why some are killed – have then done something wrong in their lives. In this section we are encouraged to follow the pleading of the gardener who wants to give the tree another year. Do we strive to help make God’s Church, our local churches places that bear fruit, that make a difference? Maybe even, would God look at our church and say it has not produced fruit?

In the example of the servant gardener I see two virtues, one is prayer, in his pleading with the owner and the other is action, he will get stuck in to help this tree finally bear fruit.

Alternatively we may be that unfruitful tree, in danger of being cut down, but spared by the intercession of the servant; we should work on bearing fruit

In the first part of the passage Jesus uses real events to help focus people’s thoughts, not just on the events but on what God calls for us – in the second he tells a parable that again pushes us to think more deeply; whether we are the tree which needs to bear fruit, or we are the servant who now needs to work to give the tree every chance, we are pushed to ask what God requires of us, not just what we think is happening.

In our world today, too many are dying from the violence of others and they are victims not bad people. Will we prove our fruitfulness by what we do to help, to care, and also to protest and challenge. Sometimes the Pilates of this world are not going to listen. That does not mean we should not speak.

Rev’d Peter Reiss