A Nation Lost, but Not All
SHORTLY after Jesus’ discussion with those who had gathered outside the house of a Pharisee, certain ones tell him “about the Galileans whose blood [the Roman governor Pontius] Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” These Galileans are perhaps the ones who were killed when thousands of Jews protested Pilate’s use of money from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem. Those relating this matter to Jesus may be suggesting that the Galileans suffered the calamity because of their own wicked deeds.
Jesus, however, sets them straight, asking: “Do you imagine that these Galileans were proved worse sinners than all other Galileans because they have suffered these things? No, indeed,” Jesus answers. Then he uses the incident to warn the Jews: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise be destroyed.”
Continuing, Jesus recalls another local tragedy, perhaps also associated with the aqueduct construction. He asks: “Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, thereby killing them, do you imagine that they were proved greater debtors than all other men inhabiting Jerusalem?” No, it was not because of the badness of these persons that they happened to die, Jesus says. Rather, “time and unforeseen occurrence” are generally responsible for such tragedies. Jesus, however, once again uses the occasion to warn: “But, unless you repent, you will all be destroyed in the same way.”
Jesus then goes on to give a fitting illustration, explaining: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it, but found none. Then he said to the vinedresser, ‘Here it is three years that I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, but have found none. Cut it down! Why really should it keep the ground useless?’ In reply he said to him, ‘Master, let it alone also this year, until I dig around it and put on manure; and if then it produces fruit in the future, well and good; but if not, you shall cut it down.’”
Jesus has tried for more than three years to cultivate faith among the Jewish nation. But only a few hundred disciples can be counted as fruitage of his labors. Now, during this fourth year of his ministry, he is intensifying his efforts, symbolically digging and putting manure around the Jewish fig tree by zealously preaching and teaching in Judea and Perea. Yet to no avail! The nation refuses to repent and so is in line for destruction. Only a remnant of the nation respond.
Shortly afterward Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on a Sabbath. There he sees a woman who, because of a demon afflicting her, has been bent double for 18 years. Compassionately, Jesus addresses her: “Woman, you are released from your weakness.” At that he lays his hands on her, and instantly she straightens up and begins glorifying God.
The presiding officer of the synagogue, however, is angry. “There are six days on which work ought to be done,” he protests. “On them, therefore, come and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” The officer thus acknowledges Jesus’ power to heal but condemns the people for coming to be healed on the Sabbath!
“Hypocrites,” Jesus answers, “does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his bull or his ass from the stall and lead it away to give it drink? Was it not due, then, for this woman who is a daughter of Abraham, and whom Satan held bound, look! eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”
Well, on hearing this, those opposing Jesus begin to feel shame. The crowd, however, rejoice at all the glorious things they see Jesus do. In response Jesus repeats two prophetic illustrations regarding the Kingdom of God, ones that he told from a boat on the Sea of Galilee about a year earlier. Luke 13:1-21; Ecclesiastes 9:11; Matthew 13:31-33.
▪ What tragedies are here mentioned, and what lesson does Jesus draw from them?
▪ What application can be made regarding the unfruitful fig tree, as well as the attempts to make it productive?
▪ How does the presiding officer acknowledge Jesus’ healing ability, yet how does Jesus expose the man’s hypocrisy?