in search of figs

Luke 12.1-13.9

The Passover Pathway. Let’s join Jesus and the multitude of people who are on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Some suggest that Jesus is actually a year away from his death on this journey to Jerusalem (Rienecker & Rogers, 180). Jesus offers two distinct audiences a very serious conversation on what it means to be a disciple. There is an inner circle of disciples near Jesus, which most of the conversation is targeted, and there is a second audience just beyond the inner circle. The outer circle consisted of a large crowd of thousands of people who had gathered so that they were actually trampling on one another (Luke 12.1). This outer circle of people might be described best as curious onlookers even uncommitted bystanders. Yet, they were listening in on what Jesus was saying to his disciples.

People Playing Pious. Jesus’ storytelling moves between the two audiences. He begins his extensive speech by addressing first his disciples, yet, the larger crowd is listening in on their conversation. He tells his disciples to stop “play acting.” The word used in this discourse is “hypocrite.” There are two kinds of “actors” that Jesus is referring to: those who say they are believers and do not believe and those who do not admit they are believers and do believe. Both are in the wrong in their behaviors.

Persecution Perhaps. Jesus is calling his hearers to grasp the purposes of God, understand the Scriptures, and then live integrally oriented toward the love of God and neighbor. For Luke, Jesus teaches that persecution is coming but faithful behavior in the face of this crisis leads to recognition before God in the age to come. In this serious conversation Jesus calls sympathetic outsiders who have not, yet, made the commitment of faith to interpret this present time.

Peace. This section begins with a description of the setting, “Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples…” (Luke 12.1). Jesus begins by teaching the disciples not to worry about their lives: don’t fear death or being killed because of your faith. Jesus encourages the disciples to stand up for their religious beliefs without concern for dying. This is a Kingdom value that Jesus is reminding them to hold – there will be life after death.

Provisions. Someone in the crowd soon draws attention to a family feud about an inheritance (Luke 12.13). Jesus explains that it is not wise to worry about personal provisions but to trust in God for your every need. Then Jesus turns his attention back to the disciples and offers a corresponding teaching about not worrying about your personal inheritance knowing that God himself will provide both in this life and the life to come. Jesus turns the disciples worries about this earthly body and the provisions needed toward Kingdom riches of life everlasting and provisions. He closes out his conversation point, “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Luke 12.34). This is a Kingdom value that Jesus teaches his followers – there will be Kingdom provisions.

Principles. The conversation continues as Jesus offers words of encouragement about being prepared at all times for service (Luke 12.35-48). Jesus emphasizes the importance on being Kingdom ready demands following the masters will in all things. This is a Kingdom value that Jesus teaches his followers – there are Kingdom responsibilities.

Pride. Jesus goes on to describe the Kingdom conflicts that will inevitably happen within families and with our adversaries (Luke 12.49-59). Jesus reminds the listener to the dangers of keeping conflicts hot. This is a Kingdom value that Jesus teaches his followers – the Kingdom demands that we be prepared to resolve conflict quickly.

Penitence. The crowd has been drawn into this serious conversation which started all the way back in Luke 12:1. Some people present told Jesus about a political conflict between Pilate and the Galileans then Jesus mentions an additional event – the accidental fall of the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13.1-5). Both circumstances create space for Jesus to discuss Kingdom business around the requirement for repentance. Now Jesus concludes this conversation with the importance of the fruit of repentance (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus pronounces,“But unless you repent, you too will perish” (Luke 13.3, 5). Repentance here implies a change of mind. It is deeply felt remorse for one’s behavior. The idea of sin implies a debt to God. This is a Kingdom value that Jesus teaches to those nearby – the Kingdom requires the fruit of repentance for all people.

Political. The story, which is uniquely Lucan, begins this way, “A man had a fig tree growing in a vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any” (Luke 13.6). Fig trees were often planted in a vineyard for the benefit of the grapes. There are actually symbols for the nation of Israel – the grape vine, the fig tree, and the olive tree. The grape vine represents Israel’s spiritual lineage, the fig tree its national life (political), and the olive tree its religious heritage. Here Jesus is inviting the listener to reflect on national behavior of repentance.

Purpose. The tree exits to bear fruit. It has a purpose. Hear the voice of the vineyard owner when the tree does not fulfill its purpose, “So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’” (Luke 13.7). You can certainly hear the frustration of his words. The owner desires a proper growth cycle from the fig tree. The fig tree needs to fulfill its purpose of bearing fruit. The fig tree has a maturation period of four years then it is expected to bear fruit. Three years the owner became tired of waiting for the tree to bear fruit. Seven years of waiting should be adequate opportunity for the tree to fulfill its purpose – to bear fruit.

Patience. But the gardener is not anxious about the owners harsh words, but is emotionally stirred to respond, “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13.8-9). The gardener spoke up and asked for one more year! One more year of giving the tree extra attention! One more year to bring intentionality into his gardening: to dig around the roots and to tend the soil with nutrients.

Possibility. Here is the climax of the discourse, of this serious conversation. Here it is – don’t miss it now! It’s the possibility to live fruit-filled lives even out of season! Jesus is calling out for people to perceive the sign of the time and quit “play acting.” Jesus is sensing the urgency that there really isn’t much time left. Jerusalem lies ahead; the window is closing for true repentance.


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