It’s just business

Published 6:09 pm Sunday, March 27, 2022

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We’re not supposed to let other people color how we react. We’re supposed to maintain control, and we should. We’re not supposed to take on other people’s moods. We shouldn’t let them trigger us into acting like them, if they’re not acting properly. We certainly shouldn’t take the bait just because others around us are trying to pick a fight. 

What’s that saying? “You don’t have to show up for every battle you’re invited to?” In Luke 13: 1-9, we see Jesus react to something that was said, and it might catch us a little off guard. His reaction is sharp. A pastor friend points out that “some people” came and said they wanted to tell Jesus a story in our text today. We don’t know much about these people. Maybe they had given him some trouble recently. 

We don’t know if they’re Pharisees or scribes, perhaps. We don’t get to know who stirred things by telling him this bit of news. Whoever they were, Jesus appears to take the bait.

To their question, he responds by asserting that they might need to repent because life can be short. Tragedies can happen, such as the Siloam Tower collapse that he mentions. If we are paying attention, we might wonder why Jesus responds as he does. Maybe it’s in the “who” of these people that came to him with a story and a question.

Repent is a word that most of Christianity has voted off the island. I am convinced that’s because the rest of Christianity has chosen to wield the word as a weapon of judgment and destruction. Do you understand what the word means? I’m not always sure I do.

One commenter says that at its roots, the word means to turn around from going one way and now go exactly the opposite. We Christians adapt the word to mean that we confess sinful ways and follow Jesus. 

But it’s not just a pledge of a new direction. It’s a new way to actually love. It’s a new way to see. It’s a new way to think. It’s a new way to experience others in light of our new understanding.

Then, Jesus drove his point home with a story. There was a fig tree that had been given three years to bear fruit. Nothing came from it. The vineyard owner ordered it to be cut down. But the caretaker lobbied the owner for another year, with some pointed and special care. 

How do we draw meaning from a parable like this? How do we interpret this story Jesus told? How do we get the power of this story without framing it as just being a business decision made at a cosmic level?

While we’re asking questions, who is God in the parable? If God is going to be the owner of the vineyard, then we’ll eventually be left with a God who wants to cut down any of us who don’t bear fruit. Where is the mercy? Where is the grace? It’s just business, so this would seem. 

But what if the caretaker, instead, is God? The one who lobbies for an additional year. What if they both are God? What if sometimes, the merciful and patient one is our God? God wants us to bear fruit. God doesn’t want us to be cut down and done away with. 

My Mother is not a landscape designer. If you wanted an ornate yard, with a cohesive and planned out concept to impress others, that’s not her gift. But if you have a plant that appears not to have life left in it, a plant that is hurting, she can work miracles it seems.

It’s easier to see others who don’t bear fruit. It’s easier to see others of whom we are certain God wants to move on from. It’s simpler to cut each other down. But we each have our own brokenness. We all have our own barrenness of the soul, our dark spots that just won’t nurture life and goodness as intended. We are all deeply in need of someone who will lobby for a little understanding. We need someone who will lobby for a little nurture and some special care.

Why do I preach grace? Why do I preach mercy? Because we’re all in need of it. Any of us could stop bearing fruit at any time. You or I could appear useless to someone. But in Jesus Christ, we all have a little life left in us.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.