Sadie, the Prayer Dog: Reflections on Luke 13:1-9

Urgent is the Mavericks behind by ten points to the Lakers and only two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Urgent is two cups of coffee, a bran muffin, and stuck in freeway traffic.

Our bodies know what urgent is. Our adrenalin system knows what urgent is.

Luke shows us a barren fig tree about to be cut down, to remind our spirits of what urgent is. Urgent is repent.

Luke's Joyful View of Repentance: It's Not Too Late

To repent is one of Luke's favorite verbs! The Greek verb to repent (metanoein) means to change one's mind. It refers to a 180-degree change of mind and heart. Versions of the verb "to repent" show up about fifty times in the New Testament. Half of those are in Luke and in the second volume of his work, Acts.

Luke's gospel presents us with one repenter after another: the woman who anoints Jesus' feet (Luke 7), the Prodigal Son (Luke 10), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23). All these stories, several of them unique to Luke's gospel, feature people with conflicts, miseries, and fears. To some of them, this line from a country song applies: "It's a little too late to do the right thing now." For others, there is still time to get in the habit of daily prayer, to change their minds and hearts about where they're headed. To change their lives.

Turning Back to God during Lent 

Says the prodigal son in the pig pen,

How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare but here I am dying of hunger. I will get up and go to my father and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like one of your hired hands (Luke 15:17-19).

Lent is a good time to have a little talk with ourselves about the person we're afraid we're becoming, about the joy we sense we are missing. Lent is a good time to turn around and head toward God.

It's not easy to turn around. But do it anyway. That's what this grim little parable is saying to us as it sinks its teeth into our ankle.

We don't have to do it ourselves. God will help us. Repentance and conversion are not human actions alone; they are responses to the prior Gracious work of God in Jesus Christ through the Power of the Holy Spirit.

There is sweet and there is sour in this passage and in this parable. The choice of flavor is up to us.

"If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down."

2/24/2013 5:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
  • Edgy Exegesis
  • Progressive Christianity
  • Repentance
  • Sacred Texts
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.