Thursday, March 08, 2007

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 13:1-9

[The first two passes can be found here and here. The first pass explains what this is all about.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments (Luke 13:1-9, continued)
6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
(1) In the Old Testament, God's people, Israel, were often portrayed as a fig tree or a vineyard.

(2) As Jesus begins to tell this parable, His listeners would probably have immediately thought of Isaiah 5. There, the prophet tells the tale of Israel as a vineyard that failed to bear fruit, in spite of all the blessings God has bestowed on His people. This is part of Jesus' message here as well. But it's for all whose lives have been touched by His grace and forgiveness.

(3) The traditional definition of a parable, as learned by generations of young people, was "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." That's true as far as it goes.

I like to look at the original Greek word which is transliterated as parable for understanding just what a parable is. Parabolos is a compound word bringing together the prefix para, meaning along side, and bolo, which means to throw. A parable is a tale that can be read literally, but which has other meanings thrown alongside of it.

7So 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?’
(1) In land- and rain-scarce Judea, trees weren't watered. If the trees in a vineyard didn't grow from rainfall, a landowner would have been quick to cut them down. Landowners would have had zero patience for an unproductive tree. The reaction of the owner in Jesus' parable would thus have made sense to the crowd He addresses.

8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
(1) Given the accepted agricultural practices of the day, the gardener's response to his boss' direct order would have been jarring to the crowd with whom Jesus is talking.

(2) What the gardener is really asking for is another year, another chance for this fruitless tree.

(3) We are called as followers of Jesus Christ to bear the fruits of repentance, in other words, to live a life reflecting the presence of Christ in our lives. Paul speaks of the fruits of God's Spirit, evidence of God living in us:
...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)
Rick Warren has pointed out that while we Christians aren't called to be "successful," we are called to be both faithful and fruitful.

The business of the Church is making disciples, of course. And the mission of every disciple is the same, which is why witnessing is of central importance to every Christian.

(3) Some people ask me, "Since the world is such a mess, why doesn't Christ come back now?" Of course, Jesus warns us against speculating about times or seasons of His return; we're simply to be faithful and fruitful until His return, whenever it might happen.

Peter writes:
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation...(Second Peter 3:14-15)
Instead of wondering why Christ hasn't returned, we're to regard the passage of time as more opportunity to bear fruit for Christ, including reaching out to others with the Good News of Christ.

(4) As long as we still live, God is pouring His grace and mercy into our lives so that we can bear fruit.

(5) Nonetheless, life in this world will end. Jesus will come back. The question for every Christian then, "How are you going to use this day God has given to you?"

I hope to see you on Sunday at 10:00AM for worship. No Saturday worship this weekend, but we resume on Saturday, March 17, at 5:30PM.

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