Stories like we normally read are much easier to preach than parables and teachings. But, Jesus is in the part of His ministry where He is teaching His disciples, so we’re reading the teachings of Jesus. This time of Lent is not only about Jesus’ teachings; it’s also about life between the mountain top moments. A few weeks ago we read about the mountain top experience of Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. Now, we’ve descended the mountain to listen to Jesus journeying toward the mountain top moments of Palm Sunday, the cross and the resurrection.
Jesus’ teaching in Chapter 13 begins with Jesus being told about some bad stuff that has happened in the region to Galileans who suffered death. The first group who suffered did so under the hand of Pilate, the same Pilate who would sentence Jesus to death. Pilate had ordered the death of some Galileans. Normally, someone at his level of governance wouldn’t actually get his hands dirty killing people. He’d order people executed. Then, their blood was mixed with sacrificial offerings.
Jesus asked, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Then, there was a belief that you suffer according to your sins or are rewarded based on your righteousness. So, Jesus is asking do you think these Galileans who suffered so greatly suffered this death because they were worse sinners than all the other sinners in Galilee.
Jesus says, “No.” So, Jesus says this suffering was not because they were worse sinners than everyone else. Which leads us to believe that bad stuff didn’t happen to them because they were bad people. Bad stuff just happens and they got caught in the cross hairs. Jesus says, “No,” that’s not how it works. People don’t suffer according to their sin, “but unless you repent” and get right with God and turn away from your sin “You will also die.” In other words, those that Jesus was teaching can avoid the perish that the Galileans suffered if they repent and turn to God.
Jesus continues about some event that seems to be an unfortunate accident that there is no historical documentation of the event. There were people who died in Siloam when a tower fell. Jesus says that this terrible thing did not happen to those who died because they were sinners, but, again, those listening to Jesus can avoid that same perish if they turn to God.
As is Jesus’ pattern in these chapters of His teachings, he moves from answering questions from the crowd to a parable. Jesus now tells the parable of the barren fig tree. A man had a fig tree in his vineyard. He came to check on the tree to see its fruit, but it had no figs. So the man said to his gardener, who must have tends the trees and vines in the man’s vineyard, “this tree hasn’t given fruit for 3 years. Cut it down. We need to make space for a fruit that will bear fruit.”
But, the gardener tells the vineyard owner, “give it one more year. I’ll dig up the soil around it and put some manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, great; if not, then we’ll cut it down.”
I think what these 2 teachings have in common is that they are about manure. The first teaching of Jesus talking to the crowd about the suffering of 2 groups of people, one who suffered under Pilate and the other that suffered an accidental death, Jesus was saying, in life, manure happens, but it’s not because we’re bad people. That’s just how life is. But, let manure be a reminder that we can turn to God when the manure seems to be surrounding us.
In the parable, Jesus says we’re planted to bear fruit. We’re called to do something. It’s not good for us to sit around and take up soil. If we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, God may come along, dig up the soil around your roots, and replace the soil with manure. Sometimes, when everything seems to be going terrible, everything seems to be going away, and we feel covered in manure, perhaps it is the work of God cleaning out stuff that isn’t helping you grow and replacing that stuff with good stuff that will help you grow. Maybe that manure is good for you.
Now, you know how much I hate those clichés, “Everything happens for a reason.” And, “You’ll understand all this someday.” Maybe sometimes there is some truth to those sayings, not all the time, but sometimes. Sometimes, your world falling apart and the stench of manure means God has done some work around your life to help you bear fruit.
I think the question we have to ask ourselves when manure seems to be all around, we should ask ourselves, not why did God give me this manure, what did I do to deserve this manure, but, instead, where is God in the manure, how is this manure going to help me grow.
If we read a few verse later in the chapter, we read the parable of the mustard seed. It’s a short parable, just 2 verses. Jesus tells his listeners what the kingdom of God is like. He says He compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden. The mustard seed grew and became a tree and the birds of the air made nests in it branches.
We might remember some details of this parable that Matthew tells in his Gospel, but Luke leaves out. Matthew says the mustard seed is the smallest seed and grows into the biggest bush. These details are relative. The mustard seed was the smallest seed the gardeners in Palestine would have sown and grew into the largest bush that they would have had in their gardens and vineyards…when in the right soil.
Fig trees and mustard seeds require good soil, sometimes manure, for them to grow into the intended plant and produce the intended harvest. We too require good soil, sometimes manure, to help us grow into the intended plant and produce the intended harvest.
Jesus concludes this chapter with a lament over Jerusalem that relates to these teachings about bad stuff, barren figs, mustard seeds and manure. This time, his crowd is some Pharisees. We know that they challenge Jesus and His interpretation of Scripture, usually. But, this encounter seems to be some Pharisees treating Jesus kindly and warning Him about some bad stuff that’s about to go down.
In your Bible, if it has titles to paragraphs or stories, your Bible likely calls verses 31 – 35 a lament over Jerusalem. A lament is an expression of sorrow, regret or mourning. Lamenting is Biblically. Some of the psalms are laments. The book of Lamentations is a whole book expressing lament. In these 4 verses, Jesus laments about Jerusalem.
Some Pharisees come to Jesus and warn him that Herod wants to kill Him. Jesus tells them to go tell Herod what He’s been doing to demons and diseases. Jesus tells them that he will go to Jerusalem because that is where prophets go to die. Then, Jesus laments because Jerusalem will kill him. Jesus is sad that Jerusalem is not the city that embraced Him and His message. Jesus had longed to gather the children around Him and protect them, but they have not wanted to gather to Him.
This teaching is about will. The verbs translated want, will and desire are all the same Greek word. The Pharisees say that Herod “wills” to kill Jesus. Jesus says He “wills” to gather the people of Jerusalem to Him, but the people do not “will” to do that. The people and Herod are outside the will of Jesus. Jesus is willing, but the people are not.
Lent is a chance for us to turn toward God’s will. We are planted to bear fruit. If we don’t bear fruit, we may have our soil dug up and our roots covered in manure. In that time, we must ask ourselves what God is doing with the manure to help us grow because we are called to do something and manure is a sign that we’re not bearing fruit. Even if we seem tiny like a mustard seed, we are still capable of becoming a great plant. To bear the fruit or harvest God intends for us, we must be within the will of God. Lent is the chance to examine our soil and discern the will of God. Ask yourself: am I bearing fruit or just taking up soil?