Let's Focus on the Fruit
When you were growing up, how did your parents or adults around you explain to you when there’s a misfortune in the news? For example, there’s a mudslide somewhere, and the mud swallowed a house with an entire family in it. What is your family tradition when it comes to explaining the misfortune or tragedy?
In Burma, the Buddhist would usually explain it as a matter of karma because most people there religiously believe in the karma—what goes around comes around. They believe the bad things happen to someone could be the result of their own sins that they have committed previously. If they have done nothing wrong, it means they have done something wrong in their previous life that has now caught up on them.
The Jewish people in the biblical time believed that people suffer for the sins of their forefathers. That means a misfortune is explained in a way that their ancestors must have done something wrong. They don’t believe in incarnation, so they blame the previous generations, as the Buddhist blames the previous life cycles.
Do you have any family or cultural belief like that? It’s human nature to find an explanation for the tragic news in our society. We want to understand everything to find a relief from the fear of the same thing that might happen to us. Many religions are founded on trying to explain the suffering of this world.
If we think bad things happen to bad people, when bad things happen to us, we will carry deep shame and shove the skeleton in the closet, instead of letting it out to let the brothers and sisters share the burden. Too many skeletons in the closet will make our life stink and cripple our spiritual growth.
Now, today’s scripture beings with two tragedies that tempted people to make judgments. The first one is about a massacre committed by Pilate at the place of animal sacrifice.
“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?’”
We don’t know the details of the tragedy, but it was described as an ugly bloody scene. So, Jesus asked the crowd whether you think these Galileans suffered such awful misfortune because they were worse sinners than others. Jesus knew what they were thinking, and this question is rhetorical. Jesus answered his own question, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” (v. 3).
The answer is no! Jesus wants us to stop compartmentalizing people based on their misfortune. If you look at it from Jesus’ Great Commandment and fully understand the meaning of it, he is saying stop seeing yourself as an island. No man is an island, as John Donne wrote. This may sound deep, but if you understand this, you are enlightened. The cause of their suffering is the sin of humanity as one.
They are not separate islands, and you are not isolated islands. Don’t ask for whom the bell toll, it tolls for thee!
Jesus worried that they might not get it, so he recited news of another tragedy.
“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.” (v. 4-5).
He is saying that you’ve heard the news about the eighteen innocent people who were crushed by the tower of Siloam; do you think they are bad people? Another rhetorical question to enlighten them. His own answer is no. Nobody is worse than anybody because humanity is one. If there’s a bad person, it’s a member of our body. It’s an island connected with the continent.
So, what is Jesus saying? Each time we criticize someone, we are criticizing ourselves. So instead of confessing other people’s sin as if they are not related to us, we must repent. As I have mentioned before repent means change. Your change will affect the rest of humanity since we are all one. So, if you want a better society, start with you.
Never think that I am just one in the seven billion people in the world, or I am just a small piece of dust in the immeasurable universe, my change will never make a difference. No, you are wrong. Have you heard of the Butterfly Theory? It’s about the flap of the wings of a butterfly in the forest of Africa could cause a storm in North America. It means the entire globe is connected as one system.
It’s like that story of the Beauty and the Beast. The sin of the prince doesn’t just cause to turn into the Beast, but also everything in the castle. Jesus is saying you are that prince, and you must repent and change, and your repentance will restore their entire castle.
Lent is the time to think about the brokenness of humanity in our mind. Everything that’s happening today in our society, the political divisions, the racial violence, and family brokenness are all because we compartmentalize people. So, stop wondering for whom the bell toll, or for whose sin they suffer, and start thinking in oneness, just like Jesus did.
Then Jesus asked them to focus on the fruit with 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?’ (v. 6-7).
In the first century the Middle East, fig tree symbolizes Israel. So, this parable seems to imply that if the Israelites don’t bear fruit, they will be cut down. In today’s context, this parable means the entire humanity. If we don’t bear fruit, the entire tree of humanity will be cut off. So, it’s useless to figure out who doesn’t bear fruit or who does because if I don’t bear fruit, I will go down with the rest of the tree.
On the other hand, if I do bear fruit, the entire tree might be saved. However, the owner of the tree might want more than just one fruit. It might need some fruit to keep him from cutting the tree off.
The gardener 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.’ ” (v. 8-9).
The gardener represents Jesus Christ, and the owner is God. Jesus has been an advocate between God and us, asking God to give us a year more time. He will put fertilizer on the tree and nurture it for one more year. If it still doesn’t bear fruit, it’s then up to God. It doesn’t mean God is cruel. An unfruitful tree is as good as a dead tree. It just doesn’t make any sense to keep it.
The good news is Jesus is buying time for us to save this world from total destruction.
In a small scale, we can heed this message as Trinity congregation. Jesus has bought some time for us, promising God that we will bear fruit very soon. Hopefully this year we will revive. Don’t get discouraged thinking that we are smaller and weaker now. Since Jesus didn’t give up on us, why should we?
Easter is just about a month away. As we observe the rest of the Lent, we must prepare our hearts for a revival starting with Easter. Jesus is putting fertilizers on our roots and watering our souls. Let us make a concerted effort to invite our family and friends to come to celebrate Easter as our revival service. Just as Jesus is risen from the dead, we will be risen to glorify God in this community and the world.
We have four weeks left before Easter. Would you please prayerfully think about those among your friends and family who they themselves might feel their life is barren and would benefit from cultivating a fruitful life together with us.
Pray for them before you invite them for Easter. You still have a couple of weeks. Tell God about your friend before you tell your friend about God. The power of prayer is as crucial as your invitation.
This Easter service will not only be the celebration of the risen Lord, but also the revival of Trinity. I believe the time has come for the fig tree to bear fruit. Please pray for the revival because our message is unique and important. When you doubt, redirect your focus on the fruit.
Let’s focus on the fruit. Amen!