3rd Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 13.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The Lain phrase “Carpe Diem” is commonly translated “seize the day,” though a more accurate translation might be “pluck the day.” A phrase like “Carpe Diem” means making the most of current opportunities because life is short.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus calls those around Him, and us, with a very real, very urgent message…”Carpe Diem! Seize the day and repent because judgment is coming!” Jesus’ words are a very serious wake-up call for those who refuse to repent of their wicked, sinful ways and just in case they didn’t catch what He meant, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate His point.
Our text begins with those around Jesus asking Him about some Galilean Gentiles whose blood had been mixed with their sacrifices. Pontius Pilate had these Gentiles killed while they were making their sacrifices as Pilate’s soldiers slaughtered them in a holy place. Just imagine a murder in here; imagine the carpet soaked with human blood mingled with communion wine. Most likely the people who approached Jesus about this tragedy were ordinary folk not look to make “small talk,” but hoping that Jesus will make sense of a tragic situation; that he will help them to understand why these Galileans suffered such a terrible fate.
In response, Jesus asks them to consider the 18 residents of Jerusalem – more than likely Jews – who died when the Tower of Siloam fell. Siloam was in the SE section of Jerusalem’s wall. The point is that whether those who died were Gentiles or Jews, the fact remains that they were all sinners who need to repent! In fact, Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v. 5). Jesus teaches that the conditions of your death matter not; it’s all about repentance and faith when the end comes; the condition of your heart.
Jesus’ parables are earthly stories that have heavenly meanings. The parable of the barren fig tree that Jesus told in today’s Gospel lesson is no different. The fig tree may have stood for Jerusalem, but it certainly represents any and all who sinfully rebel against God. The vineyard itself represents Israel specifically, but it can also be applied in terms of the whole creation. The fruit that is being sought is the fruit of repentance or the fruit that is borne out of faith in God. Of course, the owner of the vineyard stands for God. What the parable means is that those who do not repent before God of their sins and bear the fruits of faith will be cast out of the God’s presence. God’s expectation is that His people bear fruit as a result of faith, yet when He comes looking for that fruit He finds none. The tree is bare; the nation/people of God had not been bearing the fruits of repentance and faith.
What if God, the vineyard owner, were to come today and look at our country? What kind of fruit would he find? We are a people and a nation who have gone astray…a LONG way astray. I get it…we all want “progress.” But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be (C. S. Lewis). Is THIS where we want to be as a people? “Gender neutrality? Gender fluidity?” We’re teaching our kids this is a thing? NO…it’s not! This past week, our nation’s Midwest was ripped apart by catastrophic flooding and storms, but all you heard about on TV was the college cheating scandal involving some “B” list celebrity. Since when has the garbage coming out of Hollywood become more important than our nation’s Heartland and the good people in it? As a nation, and as a people, we no longer “seize the day;” we have exchanged truth for lies and then wonder why there is so much wrong around us. What should we expect?
If you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer to progress! If you are on the wrong road, progress means turning around – repenting! – and walking back to the right road. If I say “2 + 2 = 5, so +2 more is 7” and keep working forward with the wrong answer, I am NOT making progress. There is nothing “progressive” about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some BIG MISTAKES. Morally, spiritually, ethically, we are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back; as a people we need to repent and return to God and the truth of His Word, a truth that literally sets us free.
Yet, where God’s wrath against unrepentance is severe and just, grace also abounds. Just as the vinedresser pleads for the life of the tree, so Jesus pleads for us. He became the fig tree for us in our place, suffering the fate of the fig tree so that you and I might remain in God’s “vineyard.” He allowed Himself to be nailed to another fruitless, dead tree -the cross of Calvary – so that you and I and every sinner still has a sure and certain hope. We are promised that the wounds of Jesus have healed us; His sacrifice has brought to us the forgiveness of our sins before God. That great Gospel truth, that Jesus has died and risen again to save sinners from death and hell, calls us to faith so that we might produce the fruits of repentance; that we might behave as believers in Christ ought to behave.
In essence, Jesus calls His people to “Carpe Diem” – seize the day. What does that look like? St. Paul wrote in Galatians 5 that the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (v. 22 and 23). When we bear fruits of repentance and faith we do not hate our neighbor, but we love our neighbor as ourselves in order to help them in every way we can. We do not get bummed out and depressed at every little thing, but we find joy…joy that is ours because of God’s grace that is extended to us every day! We do not worry about the future or get all bothered about every little thing, but instead we exhibit patience and gentleness and self-control.
Jesus was very explicit in today’s Gospel Lesson: “unless you repent you too will…perish.” By God’s grace you can turn things around and bear the fruits of repentance. By God’s grace you can bear the fruits of a faith-filled life. By God’s grace, you can help your neighbor that they too may believe, repent, and live. By God’s grace you too can “Carpe Diem”…seize the day…and my friends, that for us as people of this nation starts with YOU and it starts NOW!