Third Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

Luke 13:1-9
(Third Sunday in Lent)
analysis by Cathy Lessmann

1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or 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? 5No, 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?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

DIAGNOSIS: Bad Fertilizer, No Fruit

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: “Cutting Down” Others
Jesus warns his disciples and all those of us who read the newspaper and think they have some kind of inside track with God to think again. The disciples had concluded that the Galileans who had suffered under Pilate were “worse sinners” (v. 2) than other Galileans. Hence their disaster was just deserts. Or, the disciples concluded, the eighteen who had died under the tower of Siloam were “more guilty” than anyone else in Jerusalem. Why else would they have suffered (v. 4). Might we also too easily conclude that because we don’t suffer catastrophes and distresses like other people do, we must be have better ranking with God. Others are only getting what they have coming to them. Serves them right! How especially appealing this temptation is to us modern-day Christians, especially us in the affluent West, who disparage other peoples for their poverty as being “self-inflicted.” Even in our daily relationships, we may too easily “cut down” someone’s reputation with a quick curt remark or a disparaging comparison. Others just don’t measure up to our high standards and our great goodness, or so we claim with condescending smugness.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Starved for Nutrition
Jesus calls such comparison practices “fruitless.” And fruitless trees are the result of a basic defect– they are without good nutrition, in need of quality fertilizer. When people seek to obtain their vitality from the false fertilizers of this world (which promise to give life), they cannot bear fruit pleasing to their “owner.” False fertilizers come in varying brands–wealth, prestige, status, vainglory and pride. All of these fertilizer’s are deceiving because they promise a goodness they cannot deliver. Our sense of self-worth is based on our own selves and by trying to make ourselves look good by comparison and at the expense of others. Whatever the brand “x” fertilizer we are using, all lead to starving us at the roots of our being from any nutrition that can sustain our beings, let alone produce any quality fruit.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Cut Down, Trashed
A tree which doesn’t bear fruit is worthless to its owner, so it gets cut down and trashed. God’s shearing verdict is evident in Jesus’ parable: “Cut it down, why should it be wasting the soil!” (v. 7) Those who have trashed others and the owner’s better graces are themselves trashed. We have been betrayed by our bad faith in fertilizers. Thinking all along that they would give us life, instead they gave us death. Serves us right, though we are not so prone to make that judgment with all its deadly consequences.

PROGNOSIS: Good Fertilizer, Good Fruit

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Revived By the Gardener Jesus
Jesus, the gentle gardener, intervenes on behalf of worthless trees, not just pleading for mercy, not just offering to tend to the gardening a bit more in the hopes of sparking some fruit. Rather, He promises the owner that He will “dig it and dung it” (v. 8). But the cure of the gardener Jesus is quite radical. He offers his own body as our new source of fertilizer, becoming “dung” (dead matter) in the form of a crucified body on the cross. He takes our dead and trashed existences, and in exchange gives us himself as the new source of life. His tree allows our trees to find new soil, new roots.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Nourished anew
Transplanted into the crucified and resurrected body of Jesus, we are revived and truly nourished. Our soil has allowed us to become the better produce of the grace given us in Jesus. Joyfully, we trust our new fertilizer in Jesus, as we are watered (in our baptism) and enriched in our nutrients (at the feast of Jesus’ body and blood). This new fertilizer, we soon find, serves us right, and keeps us growing rightly. Part of the way that we grow better through faith is by the way we now get to look upon the tragedies and calamities happening to others (but perhaps not to us). These are moments for our “repentance,” occasions to cherish the nourishment and revitalization that comes through our good fertilizer, and to abandon the false fertilizers that have led us to the point of perishing.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Bearing Good Fruit
With Jesus’ own body and blood surging through us, we become like Him. We start to act like Him. We begin to bear fruit. We have an attitude change toward others. Being freely forgiven, we practice forgiveness. Being unconditionally accepted, we practice unconditional acceptance, in stark contrast to the “trashing” we had been doing. Being so lovingly tended and cared for, we love and care for others, even and especially those we have previously condemned. This is the fruit for which our Father comes looking, and through our good fertilizer we can now deliver.


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In the early 1970s two seminary professors listened to the plea of some lay Christians. “Can you help us live out our faith in the world of daily work?” they asked. “Can you help us connect Sunday worship with our lives the other six days of the week?”  That is how Crossings was born.


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