Imagine a leader standing in front of a crowd of people. He is asked about a the death penalty and whether or not the guillotine should be used. The political nature of the question masks the rage of a crowd that clearly feels as though the government has been unjustly applying capital punishment. That leader then takes the opportunity to tell you, “unless you repent of sin, you are going to die!” Now imagine that leader to be a prominent religious figure. Now imagine that person being Jesus… because that’s what happens in Luke 13.
Jesus receives a report of the local governor’s brutal execution and subsequent denigration of his own religious sacrificial system. The circumstances in which the report is received are a bit odd. (You can read this passage here.) Jesus has been teaching a crowd of people for the previous several chapters. So The Teacher is interrupted with a political struggle. I can imagine the reporters faces. Brows slightly furrowed, pleading eyes, clinched fists. I imagine them hoping to make Jesus angry enough to get some inflammatory rhetoric about the Roman governor. Just think of the scene, anger begins to fill the crowd over the brutality of the oppressive regime. As the fervor rises, they anticipate Jesus’ soaring and inspiring call to arms. Instead, they get something totally different.
Jesus’ response ignores the politics lands squarely at the feet of those would be revolutionaries. A common occurrence when challenging God’s plan. He responds with, “You think you’re better than those who have died unjustly? You think Karma is to blame? You think you can stand where they failed?” (John Elkins Paraphrase) The response is scathing and levels the self-righteousness of the mighty religious rebels. All indignation is flattened. Jesus has a remarkable way of drilling into our souls and turning the tables to make us introspective in the face of our accusations of others. Jesus uses this method still. As we read the words of Jesus we cannot help but turn our attention to our own soul. In the face of a mighty Savior, we are unable to keep pointing our fingers at others.
Now, the stage is set. Our self-inflated importance has been flattened. Our perspective has shifted to our own wickedness and we are no longer able to point at someone else. Now the Messiah enters with a compelling call to repent: “No, I tell you; 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.”
Jesus essentially just said, “repent or die unexpectedly!” What a bizarre way to call someone to repent! There is no talk of heaven or comfort. No discourse on justice and theodicy. No arguments about the character of God or the need for faith. Jesus calls them to repent and warns them that they may die unexpectedly. Then he launches into a story about a fig tree that will get cut down and burned in the fire because it bears no fruit. Just saying, if I was one of the reporters of the Galileans I’d be super confused.
The parable is about a man who owns a fig tree and wants to cut it down and a vinedresser buys the tree one more year before he cuts it down. So the call to repent comes with a warning that they don’t have much time but the vinedresser has bought them a little.
You have little time left here. It is time to stop trying to do right on your own and to trust Him for what He has done. Repent, Obey, Follow… that is what you are called to. Learn to walk with Jesus, it is your only hope.