If you want to attack your sins, start by attacking your pride. — Peter Kreeft
A quick aside: Yes, we are reading the verses of chapter 13 that begin the chapter having read the latter part of the chapter last week. So, no, your eye are not playing tricks on you. It is strange way to read scripture but here it is.
Some things to remember about context at this point: Since chapter 11, the pharisees and scribes have been a background presence in the story. Their minions question in chapter 11 whether his power over demons was not from hell itself. One of them invites him to dinner and a debate about cleaning cups and hands versus cleaning souls begins (Lk 11:37-44) One of the scribes realizes that he is maybe saying things about and against them. (Lk 11:45) His reply confirms that he does have issues with them. (Lk 11:46-52) From then on they are hoping to trap him. (Lk 11:53-54) A lengthy sermon on various things follows though leadership in faith is the subject in it. (Lk 12:42ff)
After that sermon, we arrive at the episode for today. The Pharisees are still around. They will be around in the next episode when Jesus heals on the Sabbath and, as we learned last week, they come to tell him Herod is after him maybe in hope he will shut up and go away.
As we begin Chapter 13 Jesus is told about an incident at the temple where Pilate has killed some Galileans. There is no historical record of this event that I have found but it might remind us of the incident of Zechariah the Priest from 2Ch 24:20-22 mentioned earlier in this part of Luke. (11:51) Zechariah was murdered in the temple for proclaiming that the LORD had abandoned Judah and her nobles for ignoring the commandments of God. Shortly before, Judah and Jerusalem had been sent prophets but they had been ignored. (2Ch 24:19) Jesus’ lamentful denunciation of Jerusalem in 13:34 might well be a recollection of this as well.
The people that bring the news of the massacre seem to ask no question really, they bring news. One might wonder if this had been a subtle invitation to lead a protest or rebellion in response or even a trap to at least condone such a thing. Jesus answer seems to be of the character of a rebuke. That rebuke really creates a problem for anyone who wants to rail against Pilate but also claim that sinners are deserving of their punishment, in other words, the Pharisees.
Unexpected death in calamity comes to some by power and cruelty implicit in political power and to some from the stupidity of structural engineers as it did to the ones on whom the tower of Siloam fell. Just for interest: The word Siloam means “sent” according to the evangelist John. (Jn 9:7) Jesus seems to equivocate two human miseries here that we probably would not treat such but he does so here to make a point about the contradictions in the thinking of his current adversaries.
A parable follows. It concerns fig trees. John Pilch traces fig tree farming in biblical time this way: A tree is planted and needs to grow about three years before becoming productive. After it produces fruit the produce is considered forbidden for three years. (Lv 19:23) The forth year, most likely the seventh year since the planting, the fruit is holy unto the LORD. (Lv 19:24) After that, it can be harvested and its fruit may be eaten. Fig trees bear fruit about 9 month of the year.
In other words: No produce was expected for three years. After that it was important to see whether it bore fruit because one had to know when the sacrificial year would be and when one was allowed to harvest the fruit. We are at year six. Nothing has happened. A normal tree, a good tree, would be giving fruit to the LORD next year. This tree was not even close to that point.
We can debate about what or whom this parable was spoken. Was it about the Pharisees and scribes who Jesus is fighting right now? If so, the audience would probably have realized that and would have laughed heartily about the image of them having $&^# piled around them to make them productive. (Pilch)
But, Jesus’ call to repentance in 13:5 seems to be somewhat universal. The point of the parable is likewise universal. The point of Faith is praise to the LORD and blessing to the world. Abram, of who we read last week, was to be a blessing to the world after all. (Gen 12:2-3) Those who are his children by Faith carry the same call.
Tending that Faith is sometimes, if not often, a very messy process and plenty of $&^# might indeed be involved before fruit is carried. Even then, it is often years — three to be exact but let us not be literal here — before the “tree” praises the LORD. Yet, it must eventually happen. Just as it is the fig tree’s call in life to bear figs so it is the child of Abraham’s call in life to bring forth praise and blessing.
Pharisaism, the parable suggests, is not even at the cusp of fruit much less at the stage of usefulness. Your way of living these days: What Faith does it suggest? What God does it suggest stands behind you? You — not those others over there on whom the tower of Siloam fell — not the ones who died in the Temple — You, yes, you.
“Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions about ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have the answers for everyone else.” — Archibald MacLeish
That is the other lenten question to ask on what is “Homeing Sunday” the third Sunday in Lent. Is your pride in your Lenten disciplines driving you to think: “Everyone should be doing this, why aren’t they?” Well, the Galileans and Zechariah both were massacred in the Temple. It isn’t about any “them.” It is about you. How much $&^# will it take?