FRUITLESS TREE WILL FALL
Every tragedy reminds us that we live in a world in which we are not in control. So when tragedy strikes we look for some way to make sense of the event. If we can just find some reason for another’s suffering we can feel a bit safer and more in control by knowing that we are not like that. We are different. We reassure ourselves with the knowledge, whether it is true or not, that we have not made the same mistakes.
Perhaps we do this not because we are mean, but because we are scared and know ourselves to be vulnerable to the changes and chances of life. We are not in control. So we blame the victims. That is exactly what those who come to Jesus in today’s gospel are doing.
They tell him about some Galileans who were murdered by Pontius Pilate while they offered their sacrifices to God. Jesus hears their implication. “Those Galileans must have been sinners, they must have done something to deserve this; something we have not done.” Jesus denies their logic. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you…. Or 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?”
“No, I tell you,” he says, “but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
These words sound like the distorted cause and effect that Jesus has just denied. They sound like a threat from a demanding landowner, “Produce fruit or be cut down.” But that is not who God is and that is not how God deals with His people. God does not cut down life, God grows life. Rather, these words of Jesus are the words of a compassionate and caring gardener who is willing to get down on his hands and knees, dig around in the dirt of our life, water, even spread a little manure, and then trust that fruit will grow.
We are right to hear urgency and necessity in Jesus’ call to repentance. This is not because God is vindictive but because life is short and sacred. It is not because God is retribution but because God is love. Jesus does not seem as concerned about why people die as why people do not live.
Jesus’ call to repentance is the invitation to choose life. Live or perish. The reality is towers fall and the Pontius Pilates of this world seek to destroy life. So we must decide where we place our trust – in the mechanics of a distorted cause and effect or in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who has observed our misery, heard our cry, and come to deliver us.