We think we have it all figured out and somehow, we are wrong. We have convinced ourselves that we know how God acts and why. We watch the news and make comments alluding to our conclusion that specific people are suffering because they are worst sinners than you or I. We say things such as the invasion of the Ukraine was because the Ukraine had such an abundance of sin with sex trafficking, etc. happening that God poured forth judgment because of their sin. We say their sin is worse than ours, but in reality, it is not. Jesus gives us a stark reminder that, aside from repentance, we are all doomed from our sin to spend eternity apart from God.
“At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that the Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you with all likewise perish.” And he told them this parable: ‘There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. Cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:1-9)
This mention of Pilate’s brutality in this incident is exclusive to the Gospel of Luke. It doesn’t mean, however, that it is something we should gloss over or ignore. The horrific slaughter of Galileans by Pilate is not beyond his capabilities or reputation outside Sacred Scripture. The Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus often wrong about Pilate in Antiquities and Jewish War regarding his attacks against the Galileans. Josephus writes in Antiquities that Pilate had created a disturbance and disrupted a Samaritan religious gathering that was held on Mt. Gerizim. During the disruption, the Samaritans were murdered. One other incident Josephus records for us in his writings of in Jewish War that reflects Pilate’s heartlessness and brutality is where he killed Jews who opposed him.
The validation of this incident with outside sources from scripture shows how important St. Luke believed this event was that it caused him to be the only gospel writer to record it. Why might he have thought it important? Although we cannot know for certain the mind or thoughts of St. Luke, we can take the passage and event in context to see how he uses it. Luke continues by telling us how Jesus used this story of the fig tree to illustrate God’s patience and desire for us to bear fruit through repentance.
“Do you think that because those Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (vs. 3)
Jesus speaks of this incident by reminding us we cannot assume one’s misfortune, trauma, or death is because they are a greater sinner than us because to do so would be to show our arrogance and pride. Although there are sins that are greater than others, Jesus reminds us with this lesson that every sin, no matter how great or small, will result in judgment and damnation without repentance. The key to eternal life is not how small we can keep our sins. It is how great we can keep our repentance.
Jesus follows this by telling the parable of the fig tree. The parable and his instruction on repentance fit together perfectly. He reminds them of the need for repentance at the beginning of this chapter and the story of the fig tree tells us the patience of God. It also shows the crucial role intercession plays.
In verses 6-9, the owner of the orchard sees a fig tree not producing fruit after three years and tells the gardener to cut it down. The gardener bargains with the owner and tells him to give it one more year and he would take care to give it special attention to try and ensure it produces fruit.
As Christians, we are expected to produce fruit. We should be overflowing with the Fruit of the Spirit to all those around us, speaking about the faith to our loved ones and neighbors, and helping point others to Jesus. If we are unable to intercede for others in prayer, help others come to know Christ and draw near to Him, instruct others in the faith, or live the faith daily then how can we expect to do it in eternity? God is patient and waits for our repentance. We are not told in this passage if the owner agreed to the terms, but it alludes to the fact that he does agree.
The owner of the orchard waited three years and gave the tree multiple opportunities to produce fruit. After the intervention of the gardener, we can be confident that he gives the tree one more year to produce fruit. The Lord is patient. He is kind. He wants to give us every opportunity to repent and bear fruit with our lives and our witness to God’s mercy. The intercession of the saints, as well as intercession of our loved ones here, make a difference. Prayer moves mountains and moves the heart of God.
Pray for repentance in your heart, the hearts of your loved ones, and all those around you. Pray for the Lord to continue being patient. You should be the gardener for the tree in your life. You should be the intercessor your loved ones need. The Lord is patient. Pray.