28 Feb 2016: Lent 3: Now!
"... but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Jesus was a man in a rush.
His comings and goings up and down Palestine seemed almost compulsive. It was as though he wanted to preach in both Galilee and Jerusalem at the same time.
But especially Jerusalem: He knew the journey to the centre of Israel's religious and political life would be dangerous; but he could not stay away. He had to preach his message right in the centre of the nation's religious life. He had to risk being heard while there was still time.
This is the key that unlocks this sometimes bewildering passage from Luke, which contains no less than three distinct stories, one after the other. Bang, bang, bang. What is the passage about?
Luke gives us clues. The previous chapter includes a whole section on the need for vigilance and astuteness in recognizing the signs of the times. And immediately before this week's passage is a saying on the necessity of reconciliation with an opponent.
In other words, themes of impending crisis, themes of preparedness, themes of setting things right while you still have time.
"Are you ready?" Luke is saying to us. "Are you prepared for what I am about to say next?"
And then, suddenly, there is striking news about a construction accident and a massacre of political rebels. They
... told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
And Jesus himself recalls
... those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them …
They are the kind of stories, the kind of tragedies that make people think about things like why bad things happen to good people.
But that isn’t what it’s about at all. Jesus simply avoids any discussion about why injustice happens and innocent people suffer.
... do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you ...
This is not a passage about the so-called moral dilemma of tragic events.
But it IS a passage about seizing life's opportunities.
... but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did
Jesus says that, just like those people who perished, the time for seizing those opportunities of life may be a lot shorter than you expect.
Then Jesus tells a parable, Luke says, to underline his point. A fig tree that has not borne fruit is given some more time to produce. Not much time, but some.
The fig tree's "time of grace" is like one of those windows of opportunity. Or, to make a more modern parable, it is like a rocket sitting on the launch pad. It is waiting for just the right moment to be sent on its mission into outer space. Everything must be functioning at just the right moment or the opportunity for the launch will be lost - maybe for many months - and everything dismantled.
If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.
We know that the immense power and generosity of God's love preoccupied Jesus during his teaching life. We will hear this theme presented powerfully over the remaining weeks before Easter.
That does not mean, however, that we can underestimate Jesus' parables of urgency: that the time for us to respond to that love, that window of opportunity in our life, is rather short and maybe shorter than we expect.
The difficult, bitter, but solid truth these parables tell us is that life does not last forever, that for many of us more than half of our life is gone and we have only a small amount of it left to respond to the news that Jesus has preached.
What if all those people who were killed on September 11th had known that they had only a few days left to live? How quickly would they have raced to set their lives in order, to make peace with God, to prepare to die?
Few of us have such warnings. Few of us really believe that time is flowing through the hourglass and that we have, at best and at most, relatively little time left to make a difference, to begin to live for others the way God loves us.
It is later than you think, says Jesus. Hurry up!
Jesus is not threatening us in this morning's gospel. He is pleading with us - the way God does in every moment.
He is simply and realistically telling us that the course of our lives is shorter than we think and that we would be foolish not to seize the opportunities to enjoy one another, to love one another, to do what we can to make sure there is a little less suffering in the world by the way we live our lives - while we have the time.
So, don't waste your time on good intentions. Don't postpone what you need to do to live more kindly, more humbly, more justly today. Do what you need to do while there is still time. It is slipping away. Don't waste any more of it!