There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV)
Monday marks the 5 year anniversary of the day the United States stood still. We all remember where we were when the event happened. I remember I was walking to my second class of the day in my Senior year of high school and a friend of mine had me pray with him because he heard on the news that something happened at the World Trade Center and his dad was supposed to have been there. I went into my Lit. class and remember the teacher not allowing us to turn the TV on to see what was happening because, she said, it wasn’t that big of a deal. When class was over, I found out that the towers had fallen and that a plane had hit the Pentagon. A few moments after this, the principal announced over the intercom what had happened and told us that if anyone had family in that area to come to the office and that those students could go home.
I am sure that we all have our stories of that day. And the generation before has a presidential assassination. And LONG before that, around the year 410, St. Augustine experienced the fall of Rome. And before that, Jesus dealt with a massacre and a falling tower.
Every generation has one event that acts as a defining moment in its history. Our’s will be 9-11, unless something bigger comes along. And given the current state of world events, I don’t know that I would be surprised.
But not only does every generation have these events, but every generation has an opportunity to learn from these events. Hurricane Katrina, for example, showed us that the government should probably not be in control of disaster relief. 9-11 showed us that America is not an inpenetrable fortress (as if the constant influx of people immigrating into the country illegally is not proof enough). But beyond the immediate lessons, Jesus has a lesson that He wants us to learn from world events as well. And His lesson is much greater in importance.
Repent or Perish
Jesus pulls no punches when He deals with two tragedies of His day. He isn’t concerned with being politically correct or making sure He doesn’t offend anybody. Not at all. Instead, He comes out and points the people back to God. He acknowledges that the two events were God’s judgment (or at the least He doesn’t deny that they were), but He also tells the people listening that they are no better than those who died.
In the case of some Galileans who were killed during worship, He rhetorically asks the people, “Do you think they were worse sinners than everyone else because this happened to them?” The people are probably silent, unsure where He is going with this. They are also probably thinking that He is going to say “yes.” Instead, He tells them, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
And then He brings up another current event. He talks about some people who were killed when a tower fell on them. He asks the same question, this time in regards to those people, and says a second time, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The 9-11 Effect
There is something that happens during a disaster, I’ll call it here The 9-11 Effect. For every tragic event, big or small, there is always a lesson to be learned. The 9-11 Effect states that we don’t often learn the lesson.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a short news blurb about the religious devotion 5 years after that tragic day. The story states that “the faith of Americans is virtually indistinguishable today compared to pre-attack conditions…The change most widely reported [after 9-11] was a significant spike in church attendance, with some churches experiencing more than double their normal crowd on the Sunday after the shocking event. However, by the time January 2002 rolled around, churchgoing was back to pre-attack levels, and has remained consistent in the five years since.”
We didn’t learn the lesson. And what happened? A short time later, another part of our country was hit by tragedy. And again, I truly believe, we missed the lesson. God was speaking to the American church and the American people in these tragedies, and what did we do? We started blaming politicians and government agencies for all of it. Instead of repenting of our own sins as a nation, we committed our own form of terrorism in response. Since when is carpet bombing a city an “eye for eye” response to 3 buildings and 4 planes being damaged or destroyed?
A Barren Fig Tree
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.'” (Luke 13:6-9 ESV)
Jesus followed His call for the people to repent in light of their recent tragedies with a story to drive home the point. He talked about this fig tree that someone had planted in a vineyard. But this tree wasn’t bearing any fruit. Season after season, the man who owned the vineyard would check on the tree and he was always disappointed because the tree was not doing what it was supposed to be doing.
So one day, the owner of the vineyard has a little chat with the guy in charge of cultivating the growth of the tree. I am pretty sure it wasn’t a kind chat either. He goes to him and lividly says that the tree is a waste of good soil and it’s about time that the tree be removed. The vinedresser begs the owner to let it stay just one more year. Thus the story ends.
I am going to make an attempt to interpret this story for Jesus’ day and our day. The man who owns the Vineyard is representative of God. The vinedresser in this story is representative of, probably, a Priest, Scribe, Pharisee, or some other person in charge of the well-being of Israel, which is shown in this story as the fig tree. Let’s bring this into our day.
The man who owns the vineyard is God. The vinedresser if a religious leader. The fig tree is the church in America. What is Jesus saying to us here? He is saying that, just like Israel, we only have one more season to bear fruit, and if we don’t start doing so, we are going to be uprooted. This is a striking indictment on our religious leaders. They have been placed in charge of the church’s growth, and, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of fruit being produced.
We are living in perilous times. The church in America is not being given any other option than th produce fruit. We must produce fruit. If we don’t, we run the risk of being cut down. Will we learn the lessons from our national tragedies? Will we repent? Or are we going to take the risk of perishing in a similar manner?
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land…But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land…” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ESV)