Another Chance ……and another, and another – Lent 3C – Lk. 13:1-9
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church – 2/28/16 – The Rev. Sallie O. Simpson, Deacon
The first few times I read the gospel for today ,I felt like I had started reading a new book by going straight to the middle chapter with no idea who the characters were or what the plot was. Fortunately we have commentaries and references that help us make sense of passages that are confusing like this one!
There are two distinct parts to this reading – the first five verses are one part and the last four are the second part. The incidents described in this gospel are unique to Luke, not appearing in the other synoptic gospels or in the gospel of John, and they read like many of the violent stories that are on the national news programs we listen to every day. The incident in the first verse,”…the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices..” is a good description of the violent, bloody reputation Pilate had cultivated during his reign. There are no good, clear historical references that validate this story, but it may well be part of the fiasco that Pilate created when he decided to divert money away from the temple treasury for an aqueduct project that he personally wanted to complete. This aqueduct was to transfer water from a spring about 30 miles away directly into Jerusalem. Well, naturally, the Jewish officials and people took exception to funding Pilate’s pet project with their temple donations! So, when Pilate arrived in Jerusalem to supervise the festivals, he was greeted by big demonstrations of angry Jewish subjects. Pilate disguised some of his personal henchmen and sent them into the crowd to kill the biggest troublemakers and ringleaders. If this is the infamous incident that the people talk to Jesus about, the second one may be related. Some commentators think that the “tower of Siloam” which may have been atop the city walls near the pool of Siloam, collapsed as a result of the same aqueduct project.
These incidents are not here just for the shock value they bring! The point of these awful tales is to try to get Jesus to judge whether these Galileans died as a result of some greater sinfulness they shared or whether their suffering and death were the result of random acts of violence. Jesus rejects the idea that they were more sinful than all other Galileans. Jesus bring up the story of the tower of Siloam, a disaster due to nature and physics, not of intentional violence, and again rejects the idea that those harmed were more sinful than others. It is only at this point that Jesus introduces the real focus of this part of the reading – repenting! …”Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
When we hear the word “repent” or “repentance”, we tend to think first about behavior and resulting guilt. But there is a lot more to repentance than this! According to Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary ( no, I do not have a copy on my shelf at home, but I came across this definition while searching the web for “repent”), there are three Greek words used in the New Testament to denote repentance. Please enjoy the almost poetic language of 1897! ” The verb metamelomai is used of a change of mind, such as to produce regret or even remorse on account of sin, but not necessarily a change of heart. This word is used with reference to the repentance of Judas (Matthew 27:3). Metanoeo, meaning to change one’s mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge. This verb, with the noun metanoia, is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.”
Matthew Skinner of Luther Seminary writes that repentance refers to a total change in how a person understands something. It refers to a total reconfiguration of one’s perspective on reality and meaning. It refers to a reorientation of yourself to God. Behavior may change as a result, but repentance first involves seeing things differently and gaining a new understanding of what God makes possible. Skinner feels that Jesus’ summons to repent is not minimizing life’s hardships – it means coming to discover God as the source of sustenance, belonging, meaning, and hope in this difficult life and into future existence.
Finally we get to the parable of the non-producing fig tree! In these times, it was common to plant fruit trees in the vineyards. The owner of the vineyard was going to the vineyard with the express purpose of looking for fruit on the tree (possible several trees). The owner is upset that even after three years, there are still no figs on the tree. Historical note – the three year time frame is probably based on the mandate given in Leviticus 19:23 which forbids gathering fruit from newly-planted trees for the first three years. The owner has given the tree its minimum time to produce and is now frustrated and wants the tree to be cut down, to free up the soil for another tree or plant. Fortunately for the fig tree, the gardener offers an alternative, to offer the grace of more time and a richer environment to promote the production of fruit.
The fig tree got a second chance! God gives us second chances, time and time again! We have opportunities to help others have second chances! In 1994, there was a story published about the Fellowship Center Church in Fort Lauderdale. The church, under the guidance of Elder Dennis Grant, took in a local 12 year old boy and began to guide and nurture him. The boy was named Percy, but in the community he was known as “Crime Boy”, since he had already been arrested 57 times by age 12. Over the course of a year, the elders and youth worked with Percy and helped him to change. By the end of one year free from crime, Percy was known as “Church Boy” ,…..but something happened. Percy was caught breaking into a shed to steal a bicycle, and was renamed “Backslide Boy”. I don’t know the end of the story, but it raises questions. Should Fellowship Church give up on Percy? Do we as a society give up too soon when people backslide? Are we willing to let backsliding youth go without trying to hold on to them, to their hearts, their souls and their minds? Perhaps if Percy gets another second chance, he will succeed again. Perhaps the child that cannot read and is lucky enough to have someone spend time with him or her, tutoring but more importantly showing love and respect for that child can succeed due to second chances.
My future daughter-in-law is a teacher for exceptional children who are struggling in school. She posted a wonderful thought on the Facebook page for “We Are Teachers” – When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. Just like the gardener in the parable changed the environment for the fig tree to give it a second chance, just like God gives us substance and multiple second chances, we can work to change environments to help others who are struggling. There are many ministries represented in this room today, ministries that provide second chances, sometimes over and over again. Just as God continues to give us chances and does not give up on us, not giving up should be the hallmark of every Christian. We may suffer defeats and setbacks along the way, but we still recognize and experience God’s mercy, justice and grace.
Homiletics on Line, March 19, 1995
How to Survive the Sequester, Syria, and Other threatening Headlines (Luke 13:1-9). Matthew L. Skinner, February 27, 2013
Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary