Who would have thought that the humble fig would be something that reveals the secret of a good life with God? Maybe there is more to figs than we thought!?
At this time of year, New Year’s Day, we find ourselves naturally pondering the bigger picture of our life as we think about a brand new year. And when we think a little bigger and wider, questions come.
What will happen to me this year? What will happen to people I love. What will happen to us as a church? Will what happens be easy or hard, happy or sad, successful or another sign of complete failure?
Will this year be blessed by God so things go well, or will God not bless this year and it will be a shocker?
And what about that problem I am dealing with, will that get sorted? Will God intervene in any way to change me and the situation for the better?
Enter this interesting mention of two tragic events that Jesus plucks out of the crowd as he then talks about figs.
The grisly mention of Pilate’s mingling the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices appears to refer to a massacre of a group of Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem. There is nothing said about why Pilate slaughtered these people, but the deed corresponds with what we know about Pilate’s penchant for brutality.
Perhaps Jesus refers to a tower in the wall around Jerusalem when he speaks of “the tower of Siloam.” Apparently, a structure collapsed without warning and crushed eighteen hapless Jerusalemites.
These kinds of tragedies and suffering, that we are very used to hearing about via a screen or radio raise the questions: Do people who experience tragedy or hard suffering sin more than others? Is that how God works in our lives? If we are good this year, then he will be good to us for another year. If we are bad, then God will inflict tragedy and suffering on us …
If something terrible happens to a person, it is God getting even? If times are good, then we are obviously blessed by God. Is God not at work in his gracious ways in the bad things as well as the good things?
Jesus takes the tragedy and suffering and the questions about how sin relates to these things to another place when he simple directs us to this thing called ‘repentance”.
So tragedy or prosperity do not determine your standing with God. Repentance does.
Repentance – turning away from self security and turning toward God’s victory in Christ in a 180 degree arc is what is universally needed by all people.
So, Jesus suggests that we, his people, do not need to equate tragedy, injustice and suffering as God’s punishment, and likewise, any success and prosperity as automatically God rewarding you.
Our sins or the sins of others do not make atrocities come. Atrocities, tragedy and suffering just come.
Success in human terms comes at times to.
Whether your good or bad, lucky or sad your place in the love and kindness of God is to do with honest, humble turning to God for forgiveness, hope and new life.
So, what do we make of this new year coming?
Well, here Jesus does not promise freedom from these hard things, or a guarantee of the easy life, but freedom in them both as we avoid what the real danger is – false self-assurances.
Whatever happens, a tower falling on you or the completion of great tower, these things, for baptised and loved sinners, are an opportunity to seize God’s graciousness. That’s where the figs come in …
God obviously knows his fig trees and the fruit it is meant to bear.
The “fruit” we human beings saved by his grace are meant to produce is not self-assurance of our own power, ability, status, intelligence and etc. but to delight in God’s assurance of us in Jesus death and resurrection.
But Jesus seems to suggest that a cultivated yet unproductive tree may continue to live even without bearing fruit. But this can only be because that tree has been granted additional time to do what it is supposed to do. Unless it begins to bear fruit, the result will be its just and swift destruction.
God has the authority to make those decisions. That is the truth.
So, yes, it is true. Just because you have not been cut down, do not presume that you are bearing fruit.
But what is the fig? What is the fruit God is always looking for in any day of any year? Jesus says it: the fruit God is looking for – repentance – a changed mind, to a new way of seeing things, or being persuaded to adopt a different perspective.
Repentance is something God produces in people (see Acts 5:31; 11:18), and in a way is about being found than about finding oneself (see Luke 15:1-10)
By God’s tending and watering with his Word, repentance is an entirely reoriented self, to a new consciousness of one’s shortcomings and one’s humble and maybe dire circumstances without the tending of God.
Seems to me that this use of fig trees in this teaching moment speaks of God’s patience and mercy as he patiently tends us, temporarily keeping his rightful judgment at bay.
So, the tree, whether productive or not, is not alone or left alone. The tree is managed; tended, with patience.
The tree has not been left to its own devices. Everything possible is being done to get it to act as it should. So, you as God’s ‘tree’ are not left alone without any tending and watering and supporting.
But here is the question for New Year’s Day. Will the fruit God is longing to see you bear come this year?
Will the fruit of honest humble the lovingkindness of God in Jesus emerge in time to thwart the ax? How will this season of second chances play itself out? How do the gardener’s efforts make the tree’s existence a state of grace and opportunity?
As we look at another year of living together, we don’t need to get the scales out and weigh up how good or bad we have been or will be as if that would determine what kind of life we are going to have this year.
What we are much wiser to do is simple seize this year and anything that happens in as an opportunity to cling to the grace and love of God in this Jesus in all repenting humility.
So, we face another year not in fear of being cursed but in the joy of being patiently tended by our God with the grace and compassion of Jesus.
And this is very possible because;
Whether the tower falls or injustice comes, or if times are good and the success arrives, the tending Word of the Lord Jesus will be the needed thing and the sure thing for us who have been born again of his indestructible cross of grace.
With all humility and trust in Jesus’ Words of life, 2023 will be another year to take the opportunity grasp Jesus’ patient tending.