13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then 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. 7 So 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?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Look at your bulletin cover, have you ever heard that saying before? I have to admit I see a lot of green in my life, I seem to always be looking for a little more in life. I am not much for the other part of that saying that goes, “The grass may be greener but have you seen their water bill?” I on the other hand see things advertised on TV and want it, or friends doing things on social media and become a little covetous of their lifestyle on a trip to any where like AZ, or the Bahamas, or Europe I love to go on vacation.
The other ting that I am really bad at is when I get there wondering what it might be like to live there. I see houses for sale and dream about moving to that place and living in that house. We have recently tried out Air B-n-B places and I fall in love with them. I imagine what it would be like to sell out here and move far away, and then I share with Mary and she laughs and that’s the end of the conversation. With age has come a little more temperance, but I still get the itch. I think that many of us get that itch occasionally and we seek to look over the fence and wonder what it might be like on that green grass over there. It is a habit that has been around for centuries.
Jesus was a master at pulling people back across the fence and to get them to look at their own yard for a while. When people challenged Jesus with the question who is my neighbor, he told the story of the Good Samaritan to look at ways they could give to those they didn’t consider to be neighbors at all. When a group of men tried to force Jesus to judge a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery—even though it takes two to tango and we have no idea where the man was—Jesus encouraged those who had not sinned to cast the first stone. They all left one-by-one, and Jesus sent the woman on her way after encouraging her to sin no more.
Today’s text takes us to a story in which people bring up a tragedy that has happened and asked if those who died deserved it because they ere more wicked sinners. That would be like us comparing the people of Western Nebraska with eastern Nebraska saying those in the east were bigger sinners that’s why their rivers flooded. Disasters do not come to those who are disobedient. Yet we wonder don’t we, why do bad things happen to good people? The opposite could be said as well, why do the cheaters in life seem to always get ahead?
Jesus tries to pull them back to reality by saying, look at those people that the tower fell on, were they bad people? Just because they were Galileans or people from Siloam does not mean that they deserve that fate. People die Jesus says. Jesus also says unless you repent, you will die. He means that maybe we should stop looking at the grass over in Fred and Wilma’s lawn and start worrying about tending to our grass and weeds. Maybe we should look a little harder at getting after our weeds instead wanting to take over for someone else who has put in the work.
Jesus followed the challenge with a story ir a parable about a fig tree that would not bear fruit. Felling the tree had served its purpose, the owner wanted to cut it down, but the gardener pleased for just one more year to water, fertilize and nurture it in an effort to bring it to fruitfulness for which it was created. Because of the gardener’s commitment to work to bring it to the best it could be, the owner allowed the ax not fall for one more year.
Can you imagine you have one year to get your business together or the ax is going to fall? And, what really constitutes having it all together?
The other side of the coin is how many times do we see the unfruitful tree and want to take the ax to it? We see people in need and wish they would get a job and stop panhandling. We have no idea what the situation was that led them to that way of life, but it was pretty dramatic. I often wondered when I was teaching what led kids to stop trying and to drop-out.
A teacher friend of mine was telling me a story this weekend about when he used to teach in a small school—Idalia back in the 60s. He was teaching Junior High and there was a kid that he saw on the playground that had incredible jumping ability and was fast. But the kid was pretty slow in school and was satisfied with C’s and D’s. He would not go out for sports because he thought that the kid was just to lazy. But this guy decided that he was going to make it a point of getting this kid out for track and maybe be a long jumper. He talked to the kids parents and they agreed to let their son go out for track. He was working with him and realized that the kid could really fly and thought that not only could he long jump, but he could maybe run the hurdles.
He at first let him just run and then jump over the hurdles but he was getting beat by other kids. This boy wanted to get better so he asked my friend how to do it. He started teaching him the steps and how to not jumps os high but glide over them. Next track meet the kid was ready and he glided over the first hurdle, but he got his steps off and went face first into the old cinder track. The rocks and cinder were embedded in his face, shoulder and arm. It was painful and he was a mess. The kid does not come to practice the next day and the day after they get ready to leave for another track meet and no kid.
The teacher friend goes to the house and knocks on the door and after short conversation with Mom she let him haul the kid onto the bus. Came time for the hurdles and the kid didn’t want to run. But the teacher told him if it went bad again, he would never make him do it. But he told him he had faith in him and that he worked so hard this was going to be the day. Well it was the day and the kid won his first hurdle race. He didn’t lose again in Junior High. From that time on his grades started to improve and he went from C’s and D’s to B’s and C’s. every now and then he would even get an A. The young man started to gain confidence in himself and took off. Then he went on to high school and won and kept getting faster and faster. He went to the state track meet and won. When he graduated after being a three-time hurdle champion he was recruited to travel with a group of AAU kids and tour Europe. HE got a track scholarship and went onto graduate college and become a successful business person.
Because somebody cared enough to water that fig tree for one more year it produced fruit like no one could ever imagine. Jesus is the gardener and he does not give up on us, even when we probably deserve it. We have no idea what is happening on the other side of the fence. We just look and we make snap decisions, we either want it all or we walk away in disgust. Jesus also hauls our backside back over the fence when we need it also. Jesus reminds us that we should be worrying about ourselves and not so much about others when he said repent to those who questioned why the people died.
God moves over the fence. God also encourages us to move over the fence when we can help others. Yet, God also encourages to get back over the fence into our own yard when we are judging others and not seeing people for who they truly are. This season of Lent may we keep looking for the ways that God moves and how God moves us, even over the fence.