1 Corinthians 10:1-13
I have chosen to focus my commentary on the Gospel text. This is a portion of a sermon I will be preaching this upcoming weekend.
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 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; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
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. 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?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’
In the course of our daily lives we don’t really equate small inconveniences with our moral uprightness. We don’t believe that our frozen pipes in a blizzard or the dead battery in our car have something to do with our character. But we are not all that different from those gathered around Jesus when it comes to the big stuff. In my work as a chaplain, I bear witness to agonizing questions of “What did I do to deserve this cancer diagnosis?” or “Is this miscarriage a result of my mixed feelings about being pregnant in the first place?” or “My last words to my mom were spoken in anger. I feel like I will be punished for that the rest of my life.” We ask ourselves, “because we have suffered in this way, are we a worse sinner than someone else?” Or worse yet, we attempt to rationalize the suffering of our neighbors by saying “they were asking for it”, “they brought it on themselves” or “it wouldn’t have happened if they were ‘living right’.” When asking these questions for ourselves and others, we become trapped in an agonizing spiral of trying to assign meaning to what is often meaningless. We place ourselves in bondage to a system of rewards and punishments with real life consequences. We stop actually living and instead try to stop ourselves from dying. This is never how God intended us to live.
In the text, Jesus refuses to be part of this broken earthly system, and pointedly remarks, “No! I tell you, unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” This doesn’t sound that hopeful upon first reading. But repentance is far more interesting than that. Repentance is not about feeling bad and vowing to do something different next time. It is not about a moral renovation of your life. It’s not about getting saved or choosing Jesus. There is so much more to repentance. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, actually means “to be of a new mind.”
What if repenting meant believing that God claims us wholly and wants abundant life for us? What if repenting meant releasing the white-knuckled grip we have on our lives and trusting that the God of the universe has the power to make all things new? Jesus knows that we live in broken world, he cites random violence and an incredible tragedy of a tower falling down as evidence of that fact. The brokenness of the world will continue to be made known to Jesus as we move ever closer to his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his final walk to the cross throughout this season of Lent. And yet, Jesus still shows up, and like a patient gardener, says to us, “let them alone, I will tend them.”