Meditation: What can a calamity, such as a political blood-bath or a natural disaster, teach us about God's kingdom and the consequences of wrong-doing and turning away from God? Jesus used two such occasions to address the issue of sin (wrong-doing) and judgment with his Jewish audience. Pilate, who was the Roman governor of Jerusalem at the time, ordered his troops to slaughter a group of Galileans who had come up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice in the Temple. We do not know what these Galileans did to incite Pilate's wrath, nor why Pilate chose to attack them in the holiest of places for the Jews, in their temple at Jerusalem. For the Jews, this was political barbarity and sacrilege at its worst!
The second incident which Jesus addressed was a natural disaster, a tower in Jerusalem which unexpectedly collapsed, killing 18 people. The Jews often associated such calamities and disasters as a consequence of sin (doing what is wrong and contrary to God's law). Scripture does warn that sin can result in calamity! Though the righteous fall seven times, and rise again; the wicked are overthrown by calamity (Proverbs 24:16).
The time for repentance and forgiveness is right now!
The real danger and calamity which Jesus points out is that an unexpected disaster or a sudden death does not give us time to repent of our sins by acknowledging our wrong-doing and asking for pardon here and now before we die and are brought face to face with the Lord of heaven and earth when he calls us to his judgment seat. The Book of Job reminds us that misfortune and calamity can befall both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Jesus gives a clear warning - take responsibility for your actions and moral choices and put sin to death today before it can poison your heart, corrupt your mind, and bring destruction to your body as well.
Allowing sin and sinful attitudes to go unchecked in us is like a cancer which spreads and corrupts us from within and causes death if it is not cut off.We must honestly and humbly acknowledge our sins before God and ask for his forgiveness and for his healing grace to restore and change us so that we may grow day by day into the holiness he desires for us. Holding on to sinful attitudes, and refusing to confess our wrongdoing (sins) before God to receive his pardon and healing, can only lead to one result - a corrupt heart, mind, and soul that is dead spiritually. Paul the Apostle reminds us that "the wages of sin in death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Spiritual death and separation from God is a far worse condition than any physical harm or loss we might experience in this present life.Choose today for the abundant life and grace which Christ has won for you through his victory over sin and death on the Cross.
The sign of the barren fig tree
Jesus followed his warning to turn away from sin and not allow it to corrupt our minds and hearts with an illustration and story (parable) from nature and farming which his listeners would have easily understood. Good land for growing crops and fruit trees were sparse in the arid climate of Judea and the surrounding desert regions. One very common and important source of food for the people who lived in the region of Galilee and Judea was the fig tree. Its fruit was highly prized and became a symbol of God's fruitful blessing and provision for his people. A fig tree normally matured within three years, producing plentiful fruit. If it failed, it was cut down to make room for more healthy trees. A decaying fig tree and its bad fruit came to symbolize for the Jews the consequence of spiritual corruption caused by evil deeds and unrepentant sin.
The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel's indifference and lack of response to God's word of repentance and restoration. The prophets depicted the desolation and calamity of Israel's fall and ruin - due to her unfaithfulness to God - as a languishing fig tree (see Joel 1:7,12; Habbakuk 3:17; and Jeremiah 8:13). Jeremiah likened good and evil rulers and members of Israel with figs that were either good for eating or rotten and wasteful (Jeremiah 24:2-8). Jesus' parable depicts the patience of God, but it also contains a warning that we should not presume upon God's patience and mercy. God's judgment will come in due course - very soon or later. Jesus' parable of the barren fig tree illustrates his warning about the consequences of allowing sin (wrongdoing) and moral corruption to take root in our hearts and minds. We must turn away from sinful atttitudes and sinful habits and turn to God for his transforming grace and power to change us.
Why God judges
Why does God judge his people? He judges to purify and cleanse us of all sin so that we might grow in his holiness and righteousness (being in a right relationship with God). And he disciplines us for our own good, to inspire a godly fear and reverence for him and his holy word. God is patient, but for those who persistently and stubbornly rebel against him and refuse to repent and change their course, there is the consequence that they will lose both their soul and body to hell.
Are God's judgments unjust or unloving? When God's judgments are revealed in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9). To pronounce God's judgment on sin is much less harsh than what will happen if those who sin are not warned to repent and turn back to God.
Don't tolerate sin
God, in his mercy, gives us time to get right with him, but that time is now. We must not assume that there is no hurry. A sudden and unexpected death leaves one no time to prepare to settle one's accounts when he or she must stand before the Lord on the day of judgment. Jesus warns us that we must be ready at all times. Tolerating sinful habits and excusing unrepentant sin and wrongdoing will result in bad fruit, painful discipline, and spiritual disease that leads to death and destruction. The Lord in his mercy gives us both grace (his gracious help and healing) and time to turn away from sin, but that time is right now. If we delay, even for a day, we may discover that grace has passed us by and our time is up. Do you hunger for the Lord's righteousness (moral goodness) and holiness?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, increase my hunger for you that I may grow in righteousness and holiness. May I not squander the grace of the present moment to say "yes" to you and to your will and plan for my life.
This reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager, whose website is located at: http://dailyscripture.servantsoftheword.org/readings/