1 About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. 2 “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? 3 Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. 4 And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? 5 No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
6 Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. 7 Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’
8 The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. 9 If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
10 One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, 11 he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” 13 Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!
14 But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”
15 But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? 16 This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”
17 This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did.
18 Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? 19 It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”
20 He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? 21 It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”
Today’s reading is unique to Luke’s Gospel though the fig tree parable here does remind one of the stories in Mark and Matthew of Jesus cursing a fig tree. I noted before how that was a prophetic act regarding the condition of the Temple and Jesus’ judgment of those who had made it a thieves’ hideout. Here the Temple is not in view and Jesus isn’t cursing anything. Instead, he talks about a fig tree that has had three years to bear fruit and has not. The gardener is given another chance to help the tree become fruitful. While the fig story here is less sharp it is also more broadly applied: anything that does not bear fruit or tries to block the fruit of the kingdom will be cut down.
What does it mean to bear fruit? Luke answers this with the first healing story we’ve read in a while. We know we are bearing fruit when we are releasing people from bondage. The number 18 is a subtle connection between the people killed by the tower falling and the woman who had suffered for so many years. The same question that was asked of the victims of the tower or Herod could have been asked of her: why was she bent over all the time? What had she done to deserve such punishment? No more or less than anyone else, which is not to say she was sinless, but that our sin is no barrier for the healing, delivering power of Jesus.
The healing, delivering power of Jesus comes one small prayer at a time. It starts small with praying for just one person to be healed and/or delivered. It grows, not by changing to some other strategy when the time and size are ‘right,’ but by praying for more people to be healed, more people delivered, more people set free – each of them one at a time. The synagogue leader didn’t want healings on the Sabbath. Let that stuff happen during the week when everyone is working. But if everyone is working, then how could they come to the Temple for prayer? We should be careful that our religious practices and our theologies don’t get in our way and prevent us from producing the fruit of the kingdom of God. We should also follow the gardener’s example – give special attention to feeding ourselves the spiritual nutrients that lead to fruit production. Cultivate your roots today, make sure they are digging deep to the living waters of the Spirit. Then you will be like a tree planted by the riverbank.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.