Judgment Grace and Forgiveness

3 03 2013

Text: Luke 13: 1-9

There is a book that was wildly popular some years ago called “The Secret.” The basic premise of this book is that if you focus on thinking positively, something called the Law of Attraction will lead to increased health, wealth, and happiness. Along similar lines is an idea known as Karma, which says that good deeds and thoughts will lead to the universe bringing the same back to you. It’s kind of like making a deposit in a bank of brownie points that you store up for the future so good luck will come your way. On the flip side, it also says that if you are not doing good things and act in a selfish manner or make derogatory comments, you could very well be setting yourself up for a string of bad luck. In other words, whatever you send out returns to you.

Karma and The Secret say health and wealth can be strictly attributed to clean living, and all the unfortunate things that happen in your life can be attributed your own actions. In other words, its all your own fault. You are on your own. This idea is nothing new. When I was much younger growing up in North Carolina, I remember hearing some of the adults talking (or gossiping if you will) about some not-so-serious misfortune that befell a relative or a friend, and the response was, “It’s obvious he ain’t been livin’ right!” Today’s Gospel reading shows that Jesus does not quite operate like that …

In our lesson today, here we have a scene where Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and is talking with some people about current events. One of the things that come up in conversation was the latest of atrocities committed by Pilate and the Romans who were occupying their country. It’s rather remarkable and reads like something out of the National Enquirer. “Did you hear about what Pilate did? He mingled the blood of Galileans with sacrifices!” When Jesus is told of this, he speaks directly to that idea of people getting what they deserve according to how they acted. He said, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than anyone else? No.” He then uses another example, again straight out of the Enquirer. He says, “What about the ones where the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think they did something to deserve that? No more than any of you.”

Here Jesus is offering a simple answer to some very complex questions like “How can a loving God allow such evil in the world?” and “Why does tragedy befall some and not others?” Jesus message is not to dwell so much on whether or not someone deserves a particular fate, but to press on the importance of repentance, to respond positively to the Gospel message before they, too, are dead and have no chance of response at all.

When you think about it, that sounds rather harsh doesn’t it? That sounds like something you hear right before an altar call or at a revival. I mean, where is the Good News in that?

The Good News in the middle of all this talk of death and judgment lies in the parable that follows. In this parable, there is a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard that wasn’t producing any fruit. In his disappointment, he asks the gardener to cut it down and make room for something useful. The judgment has been made, the fig tree is not living up to its expectations, so it’s best just to write it off and move on with other plans. But the gardener steps in and says, “Wait … Let me look after it. I’ll tend to it, give it some manure for fertilizer, and … if that doesn’t work … then you can rid of it.” And the owner of the vineyard agrees.

In this parable, Jesus is talking about the forgiveness and the forbearance of God. The owner of the vineyard probably did not plant the tree to make money off of it, since he had his vineyard for that, so the tree was most likely planted for his own enjoyment. It’s very much like God creating the world so it could be enjoyed by Him and everything living in it. He was probably looking forward to sitting in the shade of its big leafy branches and enjoying a bit of fruit in the cool of the day. But … something goes wrong. It doesn’t provide any fruit at all. If we can say the tree is like the world, we can also say the lack of fruit is like the sin that distorts us and prevents us from the being the person that God has called us to be. We can even go further and say that the gardener, then, is Jesus. Jesus steps in and says, “wait … I’ve got this. Let it be.” And the fig tree is given another chance.

We don’t know what happens to the tree afterwards, but we can assume that everything works out for everyone involved. After all, the gardener thought enough of the fig tree to intercede on its behalf when it couldn’t do or say anything in its own defense, so we can rest assured that the gardener took care of the fig tree and nourished it, and it will bear fruit. On our own, we cannot do anything about the state of the world we live in and we can never eradicate by ourselves the stain of sin that mars not just the human race, but all of Creation.

But when Jesus looks at us he doesn’t see a dead fig tree taking up space. When he looks at us, he sees a potential far beyond anything we can ask or imagine. He sees beautiful children of God and someone worth holding on to. While we can do or say nothing in our own defense, Jesus intercedes for us and restores us.

Contrary to what the wisdom of the world says, we are not on our own after all. As Jesus said after he raised Lazarus from the dead, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” Because of Jesus, the world is not in a state of condemnation, but forgiveness.

With Jesus as the gardener, we don’t have to worry about whether or not we are good enough or whether we can earn our way into God’s good graces, for God’s forgiveness and grace is a gift that has already been given freely to everyone. Contrary to what the world might think, there is no bank of brownie points for God’s favour.

All the Karma and positive thinking in the world does nothing to get you a seat at the heavenly banquet because a place has already been set for you by the gardener of God’s vineyard, who poured out his life on the cross. We do not have to worry if we are having a really tough time or life is beating us down because as we heard earlier in our second lesson that God is faithful and God will never put anything on us that we cannot handle. God told Moses, "I have observed the misery of my people, I have heard their cry, I know their suffering, and I have come to deliver them."

The Good News I have for you today is that as long as the fertilizer of Jesus’ death and the manure of God’s grace feeds our roots, we will bear fruit.

We will see resurrection.

And we will never be cut down.

Amen.

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