Occasional thoughts from a young adult reveling in the messiness of life.
My church has a Lenten series right now where people read the week’s Gospel lesson and take pictures that represent their interpretations of it. I have decided to share my images and reflections here on my blog as a way of extending the series (and forcing me to really think through the readings each week). For the third installment, we’ll be examining Luke 13:1-9. As always, we’ll start with the reading and then dive into my reflection.
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 around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
In both of these passages, I see Jesus pointing his finger at me and saying “Yes, you. You are just like everyone else, in need of repentance. And you, like the fig tree, are worth saving.“
The first half of the passage focuses on Jesus challenging the view that only bad things happen to bad people—that the ones whose blood was shed in the temple and the ones on whom the tower fell were no different than the ones he was talking to. We are all broken, warped individuals in need of repentance.
I must confess that I have a visceral reaction whenever someone starts talking about repentance. In trying to discern where this reaction is coming from, I find that it is because the word “repent” is so often associated with “or else” by a large gaggle of ultra-conservatives. It’s a demand. It’s a threat. They claim that some people are beyond forgiveness, and they truly embody that “bad things happen to bad people” mindset that Jesus was preaching against.
If we are honest, we are all in need of repentance. We are all broken individuals. And there is great beauty in discovering/remembering/reminding ourselves that we aren’t perfect and that we are all equal in God’s eyes. For me, remembering this brings about a sense of peace, and releases me from so much pressure and angst. It brings about a sense of humbleness. It turns my heart and mind toward grace and mercy and forgiveness.
So that’s the first part of the Gospel, but what about that fig tree? When I first read the Gospel passage, I felt a disconnect and couldn’t see how the story of the fig tree fit in. I could see that it was about patience, but my ultra-high-speed approach to life sent my thoughts to the fact that the tree hadn’t produced fruit in two years. Why give it another year?
In the same way that the gardener was not ready to let the master give up on the tree, Jesus is not ready to give up on us or let us give up on ourselves. Much like the fig tree, we need to be nurtured and tended to.
If we don’t tend to ourselves (or allow ourselves to be tended to by others), then we won’t produce our own fruit. Much like the tree, we need to be fed—our minds, our bodies and our souls crave nourishment. And there do come times for all of us where we are not being fed, and are therefore not producing. In those times, Jesus won’t just give up on us and cut us down. He will give us the chance to be reinvigorated, the chance to be renewed.
Tying this back to Lent, I am reminded of the Ash Wednesday service where we are reminded that we came from dust and to dust, we shall return. But God makes beautiful things out of dust. From the fig trees to us, he created it all. We are all connected, and we are in need of repentance and in need of care. We are beautiful, yet broken. Through God, we can be made whole.
What did this passage mean to you? Tell me in the comments below!