The gospel of Luke is written with a Gentile or Greek-speaking cultured people in mind. To them the author writes an account, composed using eyewitness accounts, of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus has continued to teach and heal, he has frequently defied people’s expectations about how a holy man behaves. In today’s text the Pharisees warn Jesus to “get away from here” because King Herod has it in for him. We might expect Jesus to take the hint and high-tail it out of there. However, Jesus is not on a journey to get away from it all. He is on a journey to get into it all, specifically into the midst of Jerusalem, into the heart of the people of God — even when they are determined to destroy him out of fear of his mission.
Is the Pharisees’ warning friendly or hostile? Modern readers too readily assume that Pharisees were legalistic, oppressive, religious authorities out to “get” Jesus because he violated Torah and taught the love of God. However, Luke’s portrays a mixed attitude among the Pharisees. They do question his ministry and scriptural interpretation. Yet it’s likely, that some of them were genuinely interested in learning from him. Here while teaching Jesus is interrupted with tragic news of the massacre of Galilean citizerns killed while offering sacrifices in the temple, possibly during a riot. While responding to the timeless question of theodicy (why bad things happen to good people), Jesus recalls another local tragedy: the random collapse of a local tower and subsequent inexplicable loss of many lives. Jesus refuses to say that those who died did so to suffer the consequences or punishment of their sin. He turns from a philosophical discussion in the third person to a directed invitation to repent, convert, make a U-turn in how we live. No one can escape the possibility of bad things, or evil. So how then will we live today, not to gain an advantage, or to avoid a threat, but to truly live?
Jesus later tells a parable about an unfruitful fig tree. It needs fertilizer, manure, in order to grow, be nourished and hopefully produce fruit. Yet if it doesn’t it will eventually be chopped down. Everything is done to encourage and empower a fruitful life. But the consequences of producing no fruit is destruction, in order for a new tree to be planted which might grow fruit. Jesus then mourns prophetically over Jerusalem: the capital city in terms of religion, social identity and economics. It seems to be unfruitful in the eyes of Jesus, in need of conversion, transformation, a good pruning and plenty of manure. Sometimes life stinks, whether you’ve earned it or not. Yet sometimes the stink of manure is a necessary, unavoidable, part of the fullness of life. In the same way, paradoxically, the darkness and pain of random tragedy and loss can be part of the life-giving light or transformative hope and gracious abundance.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What strikes you in this passage ? How does it interact with what you’re living these days, or thinking about?
- How do you hear this parable and teaching impacting your life, our life, together today? How does it give you hope or direction?
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