It’s hard not to want to try to make sense of the tragic shooting in Las Vegas the other day. It was a massacre of unprecedented scale in the United States. It was another in a growing line of senseless incidences gripping the world we live in. What does it all mean? I had the opportunity to lead a chapel service at my wife Shirley’s workplace on the anniversary of 9-11 this year, and with that auspicious occasion in the background we were all talking about the incredible devastation in Houston and Florida caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma – Maria hadn’t even happened yet. So I asked the question, “What’s going on in the world?” It seemed a good time to ask the question.
Jesus was asked something similar in his day. Take a moment to read Luke 13:1-9 if you would. He was asked what he thought about a group of Galileans who had been publicly executed by the Roman governor, Pilate. Jesus asked the people if they thought that those who were killed were somehow worse sinners than anyone else. Then he drew their attention to another group of people who had, unfortunately, been killed in a tragic accident when a tower fell on them. Jesus asked the question again – do you think this happened because they were worse sinners? “No,” he said, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish”.
What Jesus was saying is that we’re all in the same boat, and it’s sinking. The wages of sin is death, the Scriptures say (Romans 6:23). This means that the natural consequences of human sin is decay, destruction and death. The world is in the state it’s in because of human sin. All our sin. Yours, mine, everybody’s. And the effect of that sin is cumulative and exponential. Climate change, disease, political turmoil, terrorism, mass shootings – all the natural outcome of humanity living apart from our Creator and the loving ways He intended for us. And Jesus’ point was that, unless we change the way we live, we’ll all end up victims of our own societal demise. Perhaps in the ashes and cloud of a nuclear conflict!
It is interesting to me that when John the Baptist arrived on the scene in Judea his message was well received by a lot of people. He warned them to change the way they were living in order to escape the wrath that was coming (Luke 3:7). People asked him what they should do in response to his warning. He told the crowd to share what they had with the less fortunate. He told the political leaders to not make merchandise of the people for their own benefits. And he told the public servants to not be dishonest with people or disgruntled with their compensation. Luke tells us that, “the people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ” (Luke 3:15). He wasn’t. But isn’t it interesting that the way he told them to prepare themselves for Messiah’s coming was by returning to a more selfless, compassionate and concerned society that promoted economic equality, political integrity and social justice?
At the end of his conversation Jesus told a little story about a fig tree that didn’t bear any fruit (verses 6-9). When he saw it, the owner of the vineyard told his servant to cut the thing down because it was just taking up soil. The servant urged the owner to be patient and to give it one more chance. Perhaps with some additional attention and effort it could be saved.
This is an important post-script to the preceding conversation and worth pondering. Perhaps we are impatient for God to intervene in our world and bring about His kingdom in its fullness – by the power of His Holy Spirit. Notice the attitude of the servant in the story. He entreats the owner of the vineyard and appeals to his sense of patience. Before he brings an end to all things, what if he gives the servant a bit more time to try and help the fig tree produce? The owner has already been so patient – could he not be patient a little longer? The servant understands the owner’s heart – who has entrusted the care and welfare of the vineyard to people like him. It’s a story about the incredible patience of God, and our role as people in making the world more the kind of place God intended in the first place.
Maybe we’re waiting for Jesus to come again and fix all the problems in our world. Without a doubt Kingdom come is a good thing to long for! But what if, while we are waiting, more of us repented and started to live our lives like this? What if we worked harder and advocated more vigorously for a society that looked more like this? Would we be able to make this world a different kind of place before the end? I suspect we could.