The time is now

Lent 2 – 2016    Luke 13:1-9

                                                                                                                                                Marian Free

In the name of God who, in an uncertain world calls us to the one thing that lasts for eternity – a relationship with God. Amen.

Whenever something awful or inexplicable happens it is not unusual to hear the questions – what or why? What did he ever do that he should experience something so terrible? Why did it happen to her? He did so much for others, she wouldn’t hurt a fly. Why, why, why? In general, it seems that we try to make sense of terrible things by finding a reason for them. If only we could say that a person deserved what had happened to them or that they had done something to precipitate the events that had such terrible consequences we would find the tragedy more palatable.

At the same time there is a feeling that if we just knew the cause of a calamity or if we were able to place the blame on the victim then we could be both less disturbed by the event and in a position to ensure that a similar fate did not befall us. Knowing more would allow us could avoid the behaviour, the relationship or the activity that had such disastrous consequences for someone else. If we had more information, we could say to ourselves: “they deserved that”, “they were always taking risks”, or “we knew that person was no good for them”. Being able to think such things would not only reduce our state of anxiety, but have the added benefit of allowing ourselves to feel a certain smug satisfaction confident in the belief that because we don’t do those things that caused the problem we will almost certainly no come to harm.)

The problem is that life is not like that. Bad things do happen to good people. Innocent people can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and natural disasters are completely indiscriminate. Too often we can’t find an explanation for tragedy. The good do die young and the bad can seem to live forever.

Today’s gospel consists of two sayings and a parable – a pattern that is not unusual for Luke. Ostensibly people among Jesus’ audience have reported on a particularly nasty occurrence in the temple. We don’t know whether this or the event of the falling tower really happened ,but they serve to make the point that Luke has been driving home since the beginning of chapter 12. Now is a time for decision, a time to decide whether to turn to God or to continue to live in a way that doesn’t recognise the necessity of a relationship with God. Throughout that chapter Jesus urges the listeners to trust God with their future, to be prepared, to be able to read the signs. Jesus warns that he has come to bring fire to the earth. He has not come to bring peace – his presence will cause division. Now is the time to decide whether or not to follow Jesus. It is a decision that may be misunderstood and that may cause rifts with those who do not understand, but a time will come when it will be too late, when his listeners discover that they have turned their backs on God/Jesus for the last time, that they have set their faces and their lives irrevocably in the other direction.

It is against this background that we must understand today’s gospel. Jesus is calling his listeners (and therefore us) to turn their lives around. They must not think that just because nothing traumatic has happened to them that they are in some way better than those who have have had towers fall on them or who have had their blood mixed with sacrifices. No – as the gospels remind us over and over again – there is no hierarchy of sin against which we can measure ourselves, no form of measurement that lets us complacently sit back and assume that because we are ‘better’ than someone else that we have no more to achieve. The gospels are clear – sin is sin and anything less than perfection is imperfection. What saves us is not what we do, but what God does for us. This is why it is important that we “repent ” that we literally turn our lives around, stop focussing on ourselves and the things of this world and begin to focus on God and the things that endure for eternity.

Chapter twelve and the first few verses of thirteen are filled with a sense of urgency. Jesus is anxious that those who are following him make a decision that they don’t just listen but they also respond. They have the opportunity then and there to make to make up their minds to give their loves to God. Jesus is impatient. He cannot imagine why anyone would delay when there is so much on offer.

The language is so strong and the demand so insistent that it would be easy for us to lose heart to believe that we will never get there. However when we read on we discover that Jesus’ message is tempered by the parable that follows. Impatience and frustration don’t have the last word. There is room for a second chance. According to the parable, the fig tree has had three years to produce fruit. The impatient landholder thinks that that is more than enough time. Why should it take up space that a tree that produces fruit could use? “Chop it down!” he says. The gardener however is more temperate. He asks that the tree be given another chance and so it is. 

Just because God is patient is no reason for us to take advantage. Just because we think we have given ourselves to God does it mean that there is no room for improvement. Lent gives us time to think, time to ask ourselves what parts of our lives do we need to turn around, what aspects of our lives are we withholding from God’s scrutiny and God’s love our lives and in what ways do we fail to trust God with our present and our future?

None of us knows when our time will come. If it were today or tomorrow would we feel that we had done what we could to prepare? Would we wish that we had dealt with some of the things that mar the image of God in us? Would our relationship with God be such that we were ready to be face-to-face with our Creator?

Jesus reminds us that the time is now.

What are we waiting for?

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