In a dizzying succession, in verses 1-5 of Luke 13, Jesus touches upon some of the most important truths of the cosmos.
Things happen. Bad things. They happen to all of us, but not necessarily with a one to one correspondence to how good or bad we’ve been.
His words seem strangely reassuring at first: they seem to say that when natural catastrophes happen it is not necessarily because God is judging us. This is true.
But then He discomforts all of by saying that in spite of this comforting thought if we do not repent and turn from our sins then we will perish. The tenuousness of our lives is exposed. In reality, the words fall upon me like a 16 ton weight, and I begin to protest, saying, “Lord, you know that I love you. Surely, you do not intend to rebuke me and threaten me with Hell fire?!”
In fact, as a Christian who does repent on a daily basis, though far from perfectly, I wonder what this might mean to me today. This happens to me a lot when reading the Bible, especially when reading the Psalms and somebody is trying to kill David. So I ask myself, am I to remind myself once again from this passage that God does in fact condemn sinful men to Hell? Perhaps, for this is certainly true.
But knowing my heart, Jesus comes to me again, this time with a parable that I can identify more easily with, this time with the hope of grace for a penitent sinner.
From the parable, as well as from the rest of Scripture, we discover that God really likes trees. The Garden of Eden, after all, came down to a matter of trees, and the very first Psalm likens the two ways of life to the life of trees.
God has made you a tree, and He has planted you in His Garden once again, just as in the beginning. He has loved you, and He has given you a place on His earth, but as in the Garden of Eden He has certain rules or expectations. Because He has made you a tree, He expects you to act like a tree. You might ask yourself “Well, if I’m a tree, what kind of tree am I?” To which God might say, “I’ve made you a human tree, and if you are my disciple I’ve made you a Christian tree.” As fig trees were created to make more figs, so human trees are created to make more humans and Christian trees are created to make more Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ.
The problem is that sometimes we don’t bear fruit like we should, and the reason is clear: we haven’t been nourished the way we should. If you plant a fig tree but the tree is planted only in sand, with no water and no other nutrients, and is left to its own devices, it will not live very well and will not bear fruit. If that tree was created and planted for the specific purpose of bearing fruit, and the tree refuses to bear fruit, then it is fit only to be cut down.
Like that fig tree, but much more than that fig tree, we do not bear fruit because we do not do the things that lead to life, a life that yields fruit. You know about yourself what I know about myself: that God has planted you and wants you to bear fruit that glorifies Him. And you know as I know that when you are barren and dry it is not because you are not really a tree of life or that God has not offered you all that you need to grow. It is because you have refused His good gifts.
Hasn’t God been looking for your fruit for three years (or more!), as the fig tree in the parable, and haven’t some of us heard the voice of God for three years and yet been barren, as the fig tree in the parable? Haven’t you wondered day after day why you remain so thirsty and hungry and why you go to bed each night unfulfilled?
We know where to find the food that will sustain us, and yet spiritual anorexics as we are, we will not eat. Are we in the Church? I don’t just mean going to Church, as in “going through the motions,” but in the life of the Church, which is the Body of Christ? Are we fed each day by prayer and the Word, as we keep vowing we will?
I thank God that He has not left me to my own devices but has instead placed me in a garden of living trees. For every Christian, every member of the Body of Jesus Christ, is meant not only to be a tree of life but also a gardener who helps others to live.
In the figurative year that the Master Gardener has given us in this parable to repent, it is time to turn to your daily bread.
Prayer: God stir the soil,
Run the ploughshare deep,
Cut the furrows round and round,
Overturn the hard, dry ground,
Spare not strength nor toil,
Even though I weep.
In the loose, fresh mangled earth
Sow new seed.
Free of withered vine and weed
Bring fair flowers to birth. (Prayer from Singapore)
Points for Meditation:
- How healthy is the soul that is your tree? What are some ways God has been calling you to be more healthy?
- In what areas have I not been bearing fruit when I should be? What is God calling me to do about it?
- In what areas have I been bearing fruit? Give thanks to God for His good work in you!
Resolution: I resolve today to turn (repent) to the one way of feeding that God has been most after me to use. It may be a life of daily prayer, it may meditating on His Word, and it may be something else. Whatever it is, I vow to feed this way today from my Lord and ask for His grace to continue it tomorrow.
Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach – U.S. Public Domain