Third Sunday in LENT
March 7, 2010
Psalm 63:1-8 (1)
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
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.
Jesus began | to proclaim,
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven | has come near. (Matt. 4:17)
1a. CONTEXT: Luke 13:1-9
Confronted with distinctly Lucan material--a dialogue
about two contemporary tragedies and a parable about a
barren fig tree--with parallels found nowhere else, either
in the Canon or in the New Testament Apocrypha, the reader
is tempted to focus on the dialogue and ask: "What is the
significance of these events that Jesus is talking about?
Who are the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their
sacrifices? Who are the eighteen who were killed when the
tower of Siloam fell upon them? Why are these significant
Recent scholarship has been unable to shed any light
on these two tragic incidents, one calculated and cruel,
the other accidental. Because they were current events,
both would have been on the minds of Jesus' listeners.
But to spend much time on the tragedies would be
unprofitable and would the miss the point of this dialogue
between Jesus and his followers. Consistent with his
teaching elsewhere in the New Testament (cf., John 9:1-41
"The Man Born Blind"), Jesus does not link tragedy or
illness with moral failure or sin. The victims of the
tragedies--the Galileans and the Jerusalemites--were no
more sinful than any other Galileans or
Jerusalemites--including members of Jesus' audience! The
key issue is not the tragedies per se but rather one of
repentance: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise
perish" (Luke 13:3,5).
This is why the parable of the barren Fig Tree is
attached to this dialogue. In ancient Israel,a fig tree
was allowed to grow for three years whether or not it bore
fruit until it became clean [Leviticus 19:23], but this
tree had gone six years without bearing fruit--it was
Since fig trees take up enormous amounts of water
and nourishment in that arid climate, nourishment that
could go toward the vines, the vineyard owner is correctly
concerned about whether the tree bears fruit when he asks,
"Why should is use up the ground?" The request by the
gardener to fertilize the soil is an unusual one, he is
taking extraordinary measures to save the tree (cf.,
Jeremias, p. 135). The respite is granted, but for only
one year. The message of the parable is clear: "There
is no going beyond the respite that God has granted. His
patience is exhausted when the last day for repentance
passes unheeded; and when that time has run out, no human
power can prolong it" (Jeremias, p. 31).
1b. TEXT: Luke 13:1-9
1Παρῆσαν δέ τινες ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ καιρῷ ἀπαγγέλλοντες αὐτῷ περὶ τῶν Γαλιλαίων ὧν τὸ αἷμα Πιλᾶτος ἔμιξεν μετὰ τῶν θυσιῶν αὐτῶν. 2καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Δοκεῖτε ὅτι οἱ Γαλιλαῖοι οὗτοι ἁμαρτωλοὶ παρὰ πάντας τοὺς Γαλιλαίους ἐγένοντο, ὅτι ταῦτα πεπόνθασιν; 3οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὁμοίως ἀπολεῖσθε. 4ἢ ἐκεῖνοι οἱ δεκαοκτὼ ἐφ' οὓς ἔπεσεν ὁ πύργος ἐν τῷ Σιλωὰμ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτούς, δοκεῖτε ὅτι αὐτοὶ ὀφειλέται ἐγένοντο παρὰ πάντας τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς κατοικοῦντας Ἰερουσαλήμ; 5οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὡσαύτως ἀπολεῖσθε. 6Ἔλεγεν δὲ ταύτην τὴν παραβολήν: Συκῆν εἶχέν τις πεφυτευμένην ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἦλθεν ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ οὐχ εὗρεν. 7εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν, Ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ' οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω. ἔκκοψον [οὖν] αὐτήν: ἱνατί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ; 8ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἄφες αὐτὴν καὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔτος, ἕως ὅτου σκάψω περὶ αὐτὴν καὶ βάλω κόπρια: 9κἂν μὲν ποιήσῃ καρπὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἐκκόψεις αὐτήν.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
Repent or Perish
13:1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
2. ANALYSIS: LUKE 13:1-9
LUKE 13:1-4 "Galileans...others living in Jerusalem -
The section of Luke's Gospel from 9:51 to 19:27 has been
called "The Journey" by Conzelmann and others (cf.,
Conzelmann, p. 60ff.). Increasingly, as Luke reports it,
Jesus' ministry moves away from the sea of Galilee and
toward Jerusalem and death. The movement in the dialogue
from the plight of the Galileans to the plight of the
Jerusalemites mirrors the movement from Galilee to
Jerusalem and Jesus' own death. The time is getting
short. You must repent!
Luke 13:2,4 - hamartoloi - In the synoptic gospels "Jesus
did not speak of sin and its nature and consequences, but
was conscious of its reality and acted accordingly" (TDNT,
volume 1, p. 303). Jesus refuses to portray the victims
of disaster as being more sinful than anyone else
including the listeners. Sin is a reality in everybody!
In a similar vein, opheiletai, "debtors [the same word
used in the Lord's Prayer] is used "in relation to God in
the same sense as 'sinner'" (TDNT, volume 5, p. 565).
Luke 13:3,5 - metanoiete, metanoisete - "repentance,
conversion" - God's definitive revelation (in Jesus
Christ) demands final and unconditional decision on man's
(sic) part. It demands radical conversion, a
transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil,
a resolute turning to God in total obedience." (TDNT,
volume 4, p. 1002). In other words, the time is short,
the Day of Judgment is near. Repent!
Luke 13:6 - "A man had a fig tree, planted in his
vineyard..." It was common in the ancient near east, given
the poor soil and water conditions, to plant trees and
vines together in the good soil. This was all the more
reason for making sure that each plant bore fruit or it
would be cut off.
Luke 13:8 - balo kopria - "to fertilize" (literally, "to
throw dung"). According to Jeremias (p. 135), fertilizing
a vineyard is not mentioned in any Old Testament passage.
This would have been an extraordinary concept for Jesus'
hearers. It shows the length to which the vinedresser
(the messiah?) is willing to go before the barren tree
(the believer?) is cut off.
3. STRATEGY: Luke 13:1-9
It would be impossible to work with this text without
at least acknowledging that, by the illustrations Jesus
uses, the exegete might make some reference to "The Problem
of Pain," as C.S. Lewis put it:
If God were good, He would wish to make His
creature perfectly happy, and if God were almighty,
He would be able to do what he wished.
But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks
either goodness, or power or both." (Lewis, p. 26)
Much the same issue was explored by Rabbi Harold
Kushner in his best-selling book, WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN
TO GOOD PEOPLE. [A much more serious treatment of this
subject was presented in David R. Griffin's remarkable
book, GOD, POWER AND EVIL: A Process Theodicy.]
But the preacher needs to guard against dwelling overly
long on this heady question. Jesus himself did not. The key
issue in the pericope is not "What did they do wrong to
deserve this?," but, rather, "All humans are sinful, all
are liable for the same punishment. Repent, for the time
is growing late." This is a strong message for Lent [it
could also make a good Advent message], and a strong
message for the whole liturgical year.
4. REFERENCES: Luke 13:1-9
Conzelmann, Hans. THE THEOLOGY OF ST. LUKE, transl. Geoffrey Buswell. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961,1982.
Griffin, David Ray. GOD, POWER AND EVIL: A PROCESS THEODICY.
Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.
Jeremias, Joachim . REDISCOVERING THE PARABLES. New York: Scribner's, 1966.
Kittel, Gerhard, ed. THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT [TDNT], transl. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963.
Lewis C.S. THE PROBLEM OF PAIN. New York: MacMillan, 1962.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Luke 13:1-9
While there are no hymns that treat this text directly,
two hymns appointed for the day (which tie in with the
Second Lesson) are appropriate to the theme of Luke
13:1-9: JESUS,STILL LEAD ON ( LBW 341, Seelenbrautigam ) - This
hymn from Lutheran and Moravian pietistic roots affirms
God's goodness in the midst of adversity. A Bach setting
of this lovely tune can be found in the CHORALGESANGBUCH.
GUIDE ME EVER, GREAT REDEEMER (HB 690, LBW 343, CWM
RHONDDA) - This strong, stirring Welsh hymn, out of the
Welsh Methodist Revival, also affirms faith in God even in
the trials of one's life.
Exegete - George J. Koch, Jr., is an Interim Pastor in the Metro Chicago Synod of the ELCA. He was for many years a parish pastor in New England, a campus pastor in the Northeast, including ministry at Syracuse University, and a leader in the ELCA’s Working Group on Science and Theology and editor of Covalence.
6. FURTHER READING
Part of our theological and philosophical difficulty
in wrestling with questions of sin, death, evil and
suffering all revolve around what William Barrett
has called THE DEATH OF THE SOUL in our culture.
Barrett, whose remarkable book, THE ILLUSION OF
TECHNIQUE, was a unique treatment of the question of
freedom in a decadent world, has now further articulated
the challenge of speaking about our future in these
futuristic times. By tracing the development of modern
technology to its philosophic roots in the seventeenth
century, Barrett shows how modern science has become a
disembodied and theoretical abstraction which almost
totally ignores the human soul or spirit. With
penetrating brilliance, he shows how the gradual
destruction of the soul has proceeded from the days of
Descartes to the advent of the computer. Barrett probes
the technocratic optimism of this quantified, computerized age
and offers a stern admonition against the overhasty
acceptance of all that it brings in its wake. After all, he concludes:
"What shall it profit a man if he gain the
whole world, and lose his own soul?".........."What shall
it profit a whole civilization, or culture, if it gains
knowledge and power over the material world, but loses any
adequate idea of the conscious mind, the human self, at
the center of all that power?" (p. 166.)
THE DEATH OF THE SOUL From Descartes to the Computer was published by Doubleday/Anchor (1986), OP. More recently, this topic has been addressed in a fresh way by Keith Ward in his book THE BIG QUESTIONS in SCIENCE & RELIGION (Templeton Press, 2008), Chapter 6, p. 134: “ Is It Still Possible to Speak of the Soul ? ” Ward is a, Oxford philosopher-theologian who can be quite lucid and yet somewhat ambiguous at nearly the same time. I did not find this essay on the Soul as compelling as some of his earlier writings, including: God, Chance and Necessity (1996) , In Defence of the Soul (1998), and God, A Guide for the Perplexed (2002). Like Ted Peters, he stresses the convergence of Science with Religion. Unlike Peters, however, he pays very little attention to the Theology of the Cross and the way modern technology has begun to seem to some of us like a tool of Crucifixion, falling far short of the claims it makes for itself.
-- D. Buehler, ed., Lexegete
LEXEGETE © 2010
Dartmouth, MA 02747-1925