As usual, the passage can be read here.
In his book Searching Issues, Nicky Gumbel tackles the questions most asked by those investigating Christianity. As the man behind the Alpha Course, I would think he is in a good position to judge the top questions. I read it a few years ago and found it to be excellent, I understand that it has been updated and heavily revised to reflect the current climate. In the book one of the questions that he seeks to address is; ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ It’s a good question, one that chimes in our culture and it seems in Jesus’ day as well.
There is no historical record of the atrocity with the Galileans but it fits in well with what we know of Roman rule under Pilate’s leadership. The tragedy of the tower in Siloam is also unknown, we know that the Pool of Siloam was located in south Jerusalem and some have speculated that the tower was part of the city’s defences but we cannot be sure. So we have two incidents, an atrocity and a tragedy where people have died. In Jewish thought at the time, it seems that they believed such events were God’s judgement (John 9:1-3). Jesus did not say that these people were better or worse than anyone else, he clearly did not buy into the whole; ‘they must have been sinners so God judged them’ way of thinking.
Instead, Jesus reminded his hearers of their own need to repent. It shows once more how different Jesus’ thinking was to that of the crowd and probably to our own. Jesus focused continually on eternal things, whether a person lived to old age or died before the expected time mattered little when compared with their eternal destiny. This life is brief and fleeting but heaven or hell last forever. He emphasised again the importance of coming to God in repentance and receiving his forgiveness. It was not a new theme, it had been his message from the very beginning (Mark 1:15), sadly many failed to see it.
In the parable, Jesus picked up lots of pictures from the Old Testament (Micah 7:1-7, Isaiah 5:1-7).
“The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5:7)
The fig tree in the vineyard represents the people of Israel, God had given them every advantage yet they constantly turned away from him. The parable makes it clear that they are living on borrowed time. God is righteous and he will ultimately judge sin – it’s a certainty. It’s easy for us to look at Israel and see their rebellion and wonder why it was they could not see it themselves but then it is always easier to see sin in others. The big question for all of us is whether or not we have personally come to God in repentance. If the answer is no, we too are living on borrowed time. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish”.
We thank you Lord that you have made it possible for people like us to spend eternity with you in heaven. Change us into your likeness we pray that we may fulfil our calling to be the body of Christ.