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The Rev. William Klock: “Unless You Repent” (Luke 13:1-9)

January 16, 2015

From the Rev. William Klock of Living Word REC in British Columbia, here is another in his sermon series on Luke, titled Unless You Repent.  In this message, Fr. Bill talks about the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree in Luke 13, and here is an excerpt from that message:

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none.  Cut it down.  Why should it use up the ground?’  And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.  Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Jesus is warning the people about just how urgent it is that they repent—that they start following him and his kingdom teaching instead of their old misconceptions about the kingdom, about what it mean to be Israel, and about what it meant to be righteous.  God is merciful—he’s sent his Messiah to redeem.  And God is patient—he’s put up with his people abandoning their mission for centuries.  But there’s a limit to God’s mercy and patience.  His mercy is only found through Jesus and he’s given a limited amount of time before judgement comes on the unrepentant.

Jesus draws on Micah’s prophecy as he tells a story about a fig tree.  In Micah 7 the prophet describes his search for righteousness in Israel in terms of picked-over fields.  Even when Israel apostatised, there was always supposed to be at least a faithful remnant, but even the remnant of faithfulness can’t be found by Micah.  There’s nothing left.  Not only have the harvester been through, but so have the gleaners, to picked what was left of the grapes and the figs.  Have you ever been disappointed by a picked over garden or orchard?  I remember times going out to pick blackberries when the season was almost over and coming home with nothing or very nearly nothing.  Everything had been picked or been left to rot.  That’s Micah’s image of righteousness in Israel.  And now Jesus picks up that well-known imagery.  Israel is like a barren fig tree.  After three years it hasn’t borne any fruit and the owner wants to cut it down so that he can plant something productive in its place.  But the caretaker begs him not to.  One more year, he pleads.  Let me prune it and fertilise it and water it for one more year, then if there’s still no fruit, the owner can cut it down.

Jesus’ parable is a warning that can be taken in two ways.  The owner of the tree and the vineyard could be Jesus.  For three years he’s been coming to the tree and looking for fruit of repentance.  He’s been watering the fertilising the tree with miracles of deliverance and healing.  But so far the most he’s been able to find on the tree is a bit of half-formed fruit—a handful of followers who still don’t really understand his message very well.  Jesus is warning the people that as the tree has one more year, he’s giving them one more chance—one more chance to the people, the scribes, to the Pharisees, and to the corrupt priests in the temple: repent and follow me.  If you keep going the way you’re going, if you keeping looking for God’s kingdom through earthly means and through the sword, Pilate’s slaughter and the falling tower of Siloam will be nothing compared to the slaughter and destruction that will come.

We could also understand God as the owner of the vineyard.  He planted Israel to bear fruit and he’s come year after year and found nothing.  He’s ready to chop it down and to plant a new tree, but he’s sent his Son, the vinedresser, to give Israel one last chance—to show his mighty deeds and to preach repentance so that the tree might finally bear fruit.

Either way, the warning is the same: bear fruit or be cut down; repent or face judgement.  Israel refused to hear Jesus.  She killed the vinedresser and carried on with her misguided ideas about the kingdom and about God and his plan and as a direct result was destroyed in a.d. 70.  Just as Jesus had said, Pilate’s slaughter and the falling tower were just a foretaste of the judgement God brought as he cut the tree down.

As Fr. Bill goes on to point out, the warning in this parable can also be applied to the New Israel – the Church – as well as to the Old Israel.  If you’d like to listen to this message, you can do so below.

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