At that very time, there were some present that told him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then 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. So 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?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”—Jesus (Luke 13.1-9)This week we are looking at the third of Jesus’ eight final prophecies concerning Jerusalem.
What I want you to notice right from the beginning is the phrase “At that very time.” As we discussed last week, Jesus had just plead with his audience to work in the specific direction of reconciling, of their own initiative, with their much-hated adversaries. Specifically, he wanted them to reconcile with Pilate, who represented the Roman Empire to them. What we are looking at this week is Jesus’ audience’s response: “Don’t you realize what Pilate did to the Galileans?” Enemy love is never initially responded to positively, but it is the way of life, whether it appears to be so from the outset or not.
Remember, the background of Pilate’s slaying of the Galileans is as follows. Rome very carefully watched the congregating of any of its subservient people, but especially those with subversive tendencies leaning toward revolt. The Galilean Jews certainly fit this description. Those who hoped for militaristic violence as the means whereby the Jewish people would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression also held to the belief that moral uprightness, obedience to the Torah, would ensure God’s blessing of their violent revolt, and also their success. This is the paradigm of the Maccabean revolts saga. It was the paradigm of those who still subscribed to this methodology in Jesus’ day as well. If there were an engagement between Rome and insurgent Jews and Rome won, the reason is because there must have been some “sin in the camp,” so to speak. It had nothing to do with using methods God could not bless, but rather the level of religious obedience and purity in regards to the Torah by those who were fighting. The details of the story are not clear, but it appears that the Galileans were offering sacrifices in preparation for their engagement with the Romans. According to scholars, Roman soldiers had surprised some Galilean insurgents while the rebels were engaged in these sacrifices. The soldiers slaughtered the men right then and there. The excuse offered by the religio-political part of the Pharisees would have been, based on Deuteronomy 28, “If we obey God will bless us, if we disobey God will curse our efforts.” When there was failure in revolting against Roman oppression, the reason was because those revolting must have been “sinners.” Thus Jesus’ response:
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”
Jesus goes on to say:
No, I tell you; but unless you repent [turn from your violence; your eye-for-an-eye retaliation against the enemy is instead love and forgiveness; this turning-the-other-cheek way of life I am presenting you with], you will all perish as they did.
Then Jesus responds to these objectors with a second occurrence everyone was talking about during that time:
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?
According to some sources, this was one of the weaponry towers used by Rome for weapons storage. A group of zealot insurgents had tried to dig a tunnel under the tower, with hopes of seizing the weapons stored there and using those weapons themselves in a violent revolt against the Romans. But the tower’s foundation was already in a state of decay, and the tunnel further compromised the integrity of the foundation, leading to the entire construction suddenly collapsing, claiming the lives of several Galileans.
Again, the logic was not that the approach itself was flawed, but rather how strictly those seeking to carry out the given approach were adhering to the Torah.
Jesus goes on:
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.
The problem was not how strictly they were adhering to the Torah or not. The problem was the concept of eye for an eye, the violent methods they were endeavoring to use themselves. Jesus warns, looking all the way down to 70 A.D., that if they did not repent, did not turn away from their eye-for-an-eye retributive violence, it would continue to escalate until they themselves were destroyed.
Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.13-14:
“Enter through the narrow gate [of forgiveness, enemy love, nonviolent noncooperation]; for the gate [of eye for an eye, violence, and retaliation] is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life,, and there are few who find it.”(Emphasis added.)
Jesus then finishes this third prophecy with a story. Please read this story prayerfully, fully remembering the social and political context within Jesus himself told this story:
Then 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. So 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?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Jerusalem was set on a collision coarse with annihilation if something didn’t change. What was the fruit the gardener looked for that would ensure it remaining?
I point you to the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not retaliate against an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies [i.e., the Romans] and pray for those who persecute you [i.e., the Romans], so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil [i.e., the Romans] and on the good [i.e., Torah observing Jews], and sends rain on the righteous [i.e., Torah observing Jews] and on the unrighteous [i.e., the Romans]. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5.38-48)
What does this mean for us today?
Last December, the Washington Times published research that 84 percent of the world population practices some sort of faith; a third of those are Christian. That’s 2.2 billion Christians (32 percent of the world’s population). There are 1.6 billion Muslims (23 percent), 1 billion Hindus (15 percent), 500 million Buddhists (7 percent), and 400 million people (6 percent) practicing various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, American Indian religions, and Australian aboriginal religions. There are 14 million Jews, and an estimated 58 million people—slightly less than 1 percent of the global population—belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism, and others.
Notice that those claiming to have some connection to the Jesus revolution of the first century (Christianity) are the largest of these groups. Imagine the world we could create if Christians simply insisted on following the clear call to non-violence represented by Jesus’ teachings, which were rooted in His picture of God as well as the way He looked at all of us. Again, I’ll ask the question I asked last week: What would happen if Christians started believing in Jesus once again?
1.This week I’d like you to spend a few days praying through this passage one phrase at a time. I want you to pause at each phrase to contemplatively talk to Jesus about each one. I also want you to be listening for what Jesus does in each of your hearts. What is the passage?
Our Father in heaven,
May your name by hallowed.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
May we be released of the debts we owe others, as we release those who are indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
2.I want you to write down any insights, questions, or inspiring gems each day that Jesus gives you.
3.Be prepared to share these with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.
Wherever this finds you, keep living in the enemy-embracing, self-sacrificial, other-centered, nonviolent love we see in Jesus, until the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.
I’ll close this week with the words of N.T. Wright:
“‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ That remains one of the most powerful and revolutionary sentences we can ever say.”
I love you guys.
We’ll see you next week.