The Third Sunday in Lent; Year C (3/3/2013)

Lessons:Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-8 (1) 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 St. Luke 13:1-9

Prayer of the Day: Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.  Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

13.1 At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”  6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

St. Luke 13:1-9 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Figs and Sin

I don’t know much at all about figs, other than when I was a kid, and our family traveled to Redwood Falls, Minnesota to visit my grandfather, we were certain to find Fig Newtons (my grandfather’s favorite cookie) in the pantry. But you don’t have to know much about figs, or about agriculture, to understand the parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson.

There are three characters: a vineyard owner, a gardener and a fig tree. Trees, bushes, shrubs and plants are often characters in Jesus’ parables. In this case, the fig tree is a central character — central because it is not doing what it is intended to do. Its primary purpose, obviously, is to produce figs. For three years the owner has expected it to produce, and for three years it has failed. So the owner decides what he has the right to decide — what he has to decide — that if it is taking up space in the vineyard, using up nutrients in the soil, and not producing, it ought to be destroyed.

There is something we need to remember about parables if we are to understand this one. Typically, they are stories which are told to make one single point. A parable is quite different from an analogy. In an analogy, every aspect of the story contains its own meaning. (Who does the landowner represent? Who does the gardener represent? What is the meaning of digging? of fertilizing? of giving it another year? What will happen after another year if there are no figs?) Not so for the parables. The key to understanding them is to ask this question (and only this question): “What is this story’s one main point?”

The main point of this story is that fig trees exist for a purpose, and if they are not fulfilling their purpose, it leads to destruction.

Jesus uses this story to remind his listeners of how important repentance is. Repentance, a notion that lies very close to the heart of Lent, means turning around and going in a new direction. Repentance is based on the understanding that we, like the fig tree, are intended for a purpose. And when we, like the fig tree, are not living into the purpose God has for us in life, it leads to destruction.

Does destruction mean that God destroys us? Or that we destroy ourselves? (Oops… there I go again. Sorry. One main point. One main point. One main point…)

So back to the one main point: when we rebel against God’s purpose for us, God’s purpose for us is to repent. When we rebel against repenting, God’s purpose for us is to repent. And when we do repent, God’s purpose for us is grace and forgiveness and renewal and new life.

So the church created Lent. A time to consider those ways in which figs are missing from our own branches; a time to consider God’s invitation to repent, and turn in a new direction; a time to consider how even repentance can be a challenge for those of us who are human; and finally, a time to experience God’s ultimate purpose for us: grace, forgiveness, renewal, new life.

Now there is a reason to offer the traditional Lent greeting: “A good Lent to you all.”


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were Jesus’ listeners asking him about innocent suffering?
  2. Does his response answer their question? or redirect the conversation?
  3. What is the relationship between fruitless living and destruction?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is God’s purpose for me?
  2. What good work is supposed to come from my life?
  3. When I resist that purpose, who (or what) has helped me to repentance?
  4. How does God’s grace, as a response to my repentance, empower me for new faithfulness?