“Enough Is Enough”
October 1, 2023
Luke 13: 1-9
At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] 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.’”
One day in 1987, Todd Strandberg became a Christian. 1987 was also the year that he acquired his first computer – a Franklin Ace Apple 2C clone. And every day since for over 35 years, Todd has published the Rapture Index – a tool to help align current events with biblical prophecy, all to predict when Jesus will come back and kick-off the end-times for this broken and sinful world. This is a real thing – I give you full permission to pull out your phone right now and visit Raptureready.com.
Now, some of the more scientific-minded among us might be asking “How exactly does one quantify pre-millennial dispensational prophecy?”
Here’s how Mr. Strandberg does it – The Rapture index consists of 45 separate categories that align with signs of the end from the book of Revelation – everything from interest rates and wild weather patterns to arms proliferation or governments operating under the mark of the beast.
Every morning, Todd wakes up and scans the world news for stories that correspond to each of these 45 categories. Based on the volume of news stories about each category, he then assigns a numeric value of one to five to each of these 45 categories – he adds them up and – voila! – the Rapture Index number of the day.
The logic is that at some point the world will be so messed up that God will take decisive action and initiate the end-times.
As of (???) we were at a Rapture Index of ??? – just one point shy of the all-time high of 188. As far as the significance of the number: anything from 130 – 160 suggests heavy prophetic activity…above 160 and he says “Fasten Your Seat Belts – Jesus is coming.”
I can object to Mr. Strandberg’s Rapture index on many levels – the first being that even a middling student like myself can see that he is not following a very precise scientific method.
But the main issue I have with Raptureready.com is that it assumes the coming of the Lord must be bad news for just about everybody…accept for the one doing the predicting of course.
I think there were some in Jesus’ day who would have loved raptureready.com – people who were so sure that tragedy was a sign of God’s punishment on the wicked. Our reading today begins with some people in the crowd desperately trying to make sense of some recent tragedies.
“Did you hear about those Galileans who were slaughtered by Governor Pilate during Passover – I wonder what sins they committed to deserve such a fate?
“Or what about those eighteen people who were crushed when that tower fell on top of them – I wonder what they did to anger God so?”
You know – people used to think like that thousands of years ago…that when bad things happens, the victims somehow deserved it.
People used to think like that in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina broke the levies in New Orleans – “All that debauchery,” they said, “should we expect anything different.”
People used to think like that in 2010 when an earthquake devastated Haiti, saying it was because of their long history with vodou – they had it coming.
People still think like that sometimes and no amount of time seems to scrub that assumption out of the human imagination.
But I believe Jesus has something to say about that line of thinking.
“Do you think they sinned any more than the rest of you,” he asks the crowd before answering his own question with an emphatic “NO…….but unless you repent you will perish in exactly the same way.”
And then he tells them a parable about an unproductive fig tree and the landowner who would cut it down.
When it comes to parables, we often jump to the conclusion that the person with the most authority in the story is the stand-in for God. The landowner, therefore, must be God – expecting fruit and finding none and ready to cut you down at any moment. The message being that you had better start worrying about the fruit you are producing instead of pointing fingers at somebody else.
You can read the parable that way, but I believe that parables are never as easy as that – I tend to think that parables often contain an unexpected twist to reorient the listener to an entirely new way of thinking.
In fact, the Gospel of Luke rarely portrays landowners as positive figures. Just in the previous chapter, Jesus tells a parable about a foolish, wealthy man who spent his life building bigger and bigger barns to store all his wealth – only to realize his life has been a waste.
As if on cue, enter this Gardener who is tasked with caring for the landowner’s fig trees.
The Landowner looks at the fig tree and sees a waste of resources and real estate.
The gardener looks at the same fig tree and sees limitless potential.
The Landowner looks at the fig tree and sees an investment without instant results
The Gardener looks at the same fig tree and sees a project that will take several years to bear fruit.
The Landowner looks at the fig tree and says “Cut it down.”
This very gutsy Gardener looks at the Landowner and says “YOU cut it down”
It’s easy to miss that – but there it is in verse 9 –
Can you imagine the gall of this gardener who says to his employer: “If You want that tree gone – cut it down your own self.”
The Gardener is clear “I take care of trees – I Do Not Cut Them Down.”
If Parables are meant to re-orient our thinking, I wonder if Jesus is re-orienting the way we imagine God:
“For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree,” the landowner says, “and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
The message is clear – profit me – produce for me.
Prove that you are worth the soil you are planted in.
That is not God’s voice – that might be every other voice out there…but it’s not God’s voice.
Today is World Communion Sunday, and your Global Outreach committee had the forethought to invite Michael Anello to be with us today. Michael comes to us from Haiti where he serves as the Director of the Haiti Reforestation Project. I invited Michael to co-preach with me today because I believe that the Haiti Reforestation Project embodies this very gutsy gardener that we have met today, so I am going to yield the pulpit to him and let him tell us a bit about our brothers and sister in Christ who live and labor in rural Haiti.
Michael takes 5-10 minutes to share about HRP.
I could imagine that landowner looking Haiti up and down and saying:
“I have come looking for fruit, and still I find none.
Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
I believe Jesus wants us to hear another voice;
The voice of this gutsy gardener who says “bearing fruit takes time.”
The voice of this gutsy gardener who said “there is other fruit that matters.”
The voice of this gutsy gardener who says “nobody is a throw-away…nobody is a waste.”
Don’t you want to hear that voice?
Don’t we ALL want to hear and trust that voice?
May God give us ears to hear that voice loud and clear. Amen.