(Isaiah 55.1-9, 1 Cor 10.1-13, Luke 13.1-9) – Year C, 2022

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Lent is a season when we are called to think seriously about sin.  Today’s readings, at first glance, are a little confusing.  We have Isaiah’s warm invitation to a feast ‘Come and eat’, but then Paul’s warnings from history, and the words of Jesus about the barren fig tree that follow sound rather harsh.  

Passages from the Bible take on new meaning in the light of current events, and there are questions being asked in today’s Gospel which we might well be asking God right now.  Why are people in Ukraine suffering and dying in the war?  Why have over 6 million people worldwide died from Covid? What did they do to deserve this?

That’s pretty much what Jesus was responding to when the people told him about a disaster that they had just received news of.    A massacre had taken place in the Temple of Jerusalem, on the orders of Pilate, and this event is recorded in other independent sources, such as the works of a historian called Josephus.  

A massacre in the Temple would have been a heinous crime indeed – think of how we feel when we hear of church shootings in the US or attacks on churches in Nigeria.  The Temple, like our churches, was a place of worship and of sanctuary.  

The unspoken question of blame arises because of the prevailing thought of the day, that sin and suffering are linked.  Therefore, the pilgrims must have been sinners and their fate was brought down upon them by God.  

Jesus halts that train of thought immediately.  As much as it would make life simple, the world isn’t some enormous slot machine where you put in an action and you get out a corresponding result.  The truth is sometimes bad things happen through no fault of our own.  They just do.  Jesus pointed out that no-one is more or less deserving than anyone else.  

However, Jesus doesn’t leave it there.  In the face of this news, rather than focusing on the people who died, he gives his audience a direct challenge: “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”  This isn’t about death – that comes to us all.  This is about the state of our souls. That is what we are to focus on.

And this is what Paul was trying to get across in his letter to the Corinthians, when he took the warnings of history and presents them to the Church.  He pointed out that the people of Israel were chosen by God, set apart, made special – but that did not make them immune from judgement for their idolatrous behaviour and sexual immorality.

Indeed, as the rather dark parable of the fig tree points out, being special is not without its responsibilities.  Fig trees were often planted in vineyards – they were good for the grapes, but the soil was precious and a fig tree which did not produce any fruit was taking up space and sustenance which could be of use to other plants.  This parable was aimed at the Jewish people – Jesus was pointing out that they had a special position, and as much as God gives chance after chance after chance, at some point, there would be a final reckoning.  

If that goes for Israel, then it also goes for Christianity and Christians. If our lives are not showing the fruits of the spirit, then there are chances to try again – just look at saints Peter, Thomas and Paul – but we mustn’t think that we are safe and secure just because we’re Christian.  

Because what is also clear from the parable is that at some point in the future there will be a final chance.  The invitation is currently open to us, but if we don’t respond, then when that day comes, it will not be that God shuts us out, but we, by our deliberate choice or neglectful apathy, have shut ourselves out.  

So the big Lent question here is – are we bearing fruit for God’s kingdom?  Imagine yourself as that fig-tree – are the fruits of your life ones of the spirit – acts of kindness and compassion, gentleness, fellowship, patience, charity, good works, and above all, love?

God is very patient – but we never know when our time is up.  Towers fall, earthquakes and tsunamis happen, cruel hearts and hands start wars  – not everyone will get a last chance reprieve to have time to think about how their lives should have been lived and make changes; not everyone gets the chance for deathbed confessions and reconciliations.   

The Easter hope today is that the fig tree is not cut down.   So act now – to say sorry, to forgive, to live in love.   We have to live each day ready to face our Maker by living each day worthy of the wondrous gift that life is.

There is no doubt that the Lent lectionary throws us difficult texts like the one today – they can seem uncompromising and challenging, both to what we think we know of God and to our comfortable way of life and faith.  But this is precisely why we need to engage with them, and to spend time thinking ‘what does this mean for me?’  Only spending time in prayer over this text will you come to your own conclusion about whether you are living the life God wants you to, and if not, then now is the time to make some changes.  Amen.

(Artwork: ‘Parable of the Fig Tree’ by Jan Luyken)