A Reflection from Andrew for 20th March

“There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” (Luke 13: 1)

Well, enter Pilate. This is his first mention in the Gospels and Luke is almost giving him a kind of trailer, a cameo appearance here for what is to come. Galileans had been slaughtered in the temple by Pilate’s soldiers, on his orders, in the very act of offering their ritual sacrifices. It was the talk of the city.

Pilate may also have had some involvement in the Tower of Siloam incident. It was part of a scheme of grand public waterworks he’d ordered, using temple money to do it and maybe he was creaming off the money and skimping on the building materials? So, a hated project which people must have said could never come to any good.

So, lots of people have died, suddenly, and the thought that’s in people’s minds – because this is how people did think – is “what did they do wrong?” How were they at fault? Because this kind of misfortune, this kind disaster must be someone’s fault or caused by someone’s sin. You’ll remember Job had the same problem with his so-called comforters. His friends were telling him all his misfortunes had to be his fault.

But Jesus dismisses this thought. “Do you think they were worse sinners than anyone else? No!” but for all of you, he says, there is just as great a calamity coming to you if you do not repent. (And Jerusalem would indeed be razed to the ground by the Romans in AD70). Anyway, those Galileans and those poor folks crushed by the collapsing tower, they had no chance to repent (that’s the issue here) but you – and here he pins them to the wall – you do. So what are you going to do with the chance you’ve been given? The kingdom of God is here – it has arrived in me, Jesus is saying – so repent now. Don’t put it off. Turns your lives around now. Echoes from our Isaiah reading: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near and return to the Lord.”

So enter the poor old fig tree, which hasn’t done anything wrong. Someone was saying on Thursday when we looked at this passage together that figs often take time to grow, they need severe pruning too, so having a fig tree in your garden (or your vineyard in this case) and finding it takes a few years to bear figs is no surprise. 

But Jesus is making a point. The owner says to the gardener: “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” but the gardener, who we can take to be Jesus, intercedes for it. Please, one more year and I’ll tend it and nurture it and if, after all that, it still bears nothing then you can cut it down.

So the message is clear. There is time and God is merciful and God is patient, but there’s still a choice to be made. Isaiah again: “Incline your ear and come to me. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” We’ve been given a certain amount of time. So how are we going to use it? Are we going to make choices that really satisfy in that deep-down way Isaiah is talking about? In Lent we’re challenged to take our share in bearing the Cross to redeem the world. So, will we follow him? And what does it mean to do that, and especially at a time like this?

In a time of war questions like this have a real urgency. Because we’re shaken awake to see how some of the things we’ve taken for granted, like peace and the right to live our lives without being afraid – we’re seeing how fragile these things can be and how easily they can be lost. We’re seeing, if I can say this, that there is a real power of evil in this world which we need to take seriously. C.S. Lewis, writing during the Second World War, said that the devil’s most effective weapon is to make people believe he doesn’t exist.

Now I don’t believe in devils in red tights, with forked tails, but I do believe there is a militant power of evil in this world which surfaces everywhere: in the Garden of Eden, in those wilderness temptations of Jesus, in our own darker struggles, in the exploitation of the vulnerable, the weak and the poor and certainly in the eruption of a war like the one we’re witnessing now. 

Earth Month: If Not Now Then When? | ETFO Voice

In our baptism we’re asked to reject evil, and monstrous evil like we’re seeing reminds us that we’re faced with that choice every day: to reject evil and choose the good (however that choice presents itself to you day by day, moment by moment). To consciously choose the kingdom and work for it and say “this is where I’m going to put my whole self, my commitment”. Isaiah again: Choose what will really satisfy.

In these weeks and days of Lent, we’re asking Jesus to show us what this means for us. How can I live for the things I believe in? How can I live the promises of my baptism? Amen.

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