As I write this missive, we’re one year into a national COVID pandemic and in the middle of great unrest in our nation’s capital. Disaster. Catastrophe.
I’m reminded of a fictional story of a church which had a bar move in next door. For three weeks, the church members fasted and prayed that God would destroy it. Sure enough, a storm blows through, lighting strikes, and the bar burns to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, but the church denied responsibility. The judge hearing the case was confused when he realized there was a bar owner that believed in the power of prayer, but a church that didn’t.
It may be a silly story, but it shows how we often think of God waiting to smite the wicked with disaster. We even put it on our insurance forms: “Act of God.” Is God behind these things? Are they acts of judgment?
In Luke 13 (see verses 1-8), Jesus is teaching the crowds about interpreting the times spiritually, much like one would recognize signs of change in the weather. At some point, someone shouts out a question about the latest headlines. Two recent disasters were on his audience’s mind: 1) While making sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple, some sort of riot erupted, and several Galileans were killed by Roman soldiers; and in an unrelated event 2) Eighteen people in Jerusalem were crushed when a tower fell on them (perhaps in a building accident.)
These events were the talk of the town. So, Jesus answers the questions on everyone’s mind, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Were these disasters God’s judgment? Jesus answers the question twice, “I tell you no!” One was a terrible accident, and one was a terrible crime. God didn’t do it.
Jesus doesn’t pass up the opportunity to make a spiritual point about these news stories. The same fate—or similar—awaits us all. So, we all need to be spiritually prepared and repentant. (I think when he says “you too” it is especially poignant since both disasters took place in Jerusalem, and within years the temple would be destroyed and many Jews murdered.)
But Jesus continues in verse 6 with a parable of a fig tree. For three years a vineyard owner looked for fruit on his tree but found none. Tempted to cut the tree down, he instead tended the tree for one more year. It’s a story of God’s tender patience with us. God wants us to repent and bear fruit. But we don’t have forever.
Jim Mann, Ph.D., pastors New Life Church at Robson Ranch. This interdenominational church meets at the Robson clubhouse on Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. and online. Visit www.newlifedenton.org or www.drjimmann.com for more information.