Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices. He replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did. What about those twelve people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”
Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:1-9
As people told Jesus about those murdered by Pilate, I wonder if they expected to hear that their death was tied to some sin on their part. Jesus’ response about the people killed by a tower leads me to believe that might have been their motive. Instead Jesus tells them that there is no difference in the ones who died and the ones who are listening to Jesus teach. He takes the spotlight off these victims and places it on those standing before him.
We are likely to ponder such matters as well. We want to know how God is going to treat others or we try to link disaster and other tragedies to sinfulness, instead of reacting with love and compassion or looking inward at our own lives. We want to be thought of as “good people” and may use our lack of exposure to difficulty as a sign that we are favored over others.
But Jesus demonstrates that being “good” is not the same as bearing fruit. He tells them (and us) to change our hearts and lives, and goes on to demonstrate what he means with a parable, where our “goodness” is likened to a fruitless fig tree that does nothing but soak up the Word and produces nothing from it. It takes the nutrients but does nothing with them. Am I guilty of going through the motions of being a “good Christian” while at the same time judging and criticizing and living unmindfully of others and of God?
But then Jesus, the gardener, comes and offers us another chance. Yet it is a chance with conditions. Jesus takes the law and prophets and applies them to us, in terms we cannot squirm out from under. It’s not enough to follow the law. We are to love others as ourselves. The prophetic word was not only for those to whom it was originally addressed. It is for us as well. We are told that it is blessed to be poor, to love our enemies, to give without reserve, to forgive without keeping score. We bear fruit not by doing the minimum required. All that does is produce the tree. We bear fruit by self-sacrifice, generosity, compassion and love. When we are focused on the bare minimum, we don’t bear fruit. It is by going beyond the minimum, by not even considering the minimum as a “good” standard, that we bear fruit.