“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and found none.” Luke 13:6
Have you ever noticed that where our eyes are, there our attention lies? When I was taking driving lessons, the instructor kept telling me “keep your eyes on the road ahead of you.” But as Crystal and I were dating, I had this bad habit of looking over to this beautiful woman beside me as we talked. Sure enough, the car would start to drift and I wouldn’t notice until I heard the noise of the rumble strip, or the cry of my girlfriend. It works that way with life too. Where we’re looking determines what direction we’ll take.
In Luke 13, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd who have to tell Him some of the latest news. “Did you hear about those poor people whose blood Pilate mixed with the sacrifices?” They were horrified at Pilate’s abuse of their brothers, and his utter disregard for their ideas of holiness.
We might say, “Did you hear what President Trump said last week?” or we might slow down as we pass by the scene of a highway accident. Real life is filled with drama, and our compassion and interest drives us to take notice.
If that’s the end of the story, then we risk indulging in the same error the crowd in Luke 13 makes. They began to blame the victims. “The tower fell?! They must have done something wrong.” Sometimes we do the same. We might pass that horrible accident and find ourselves saying, “I’ll bet the driver was texting” or “Some people just don’t know how to drive.” We blame the victims.
Jesus called the crowd, and calls us, away from keeping our eyes on others. He invites us to look at something else.
At first, His call sounds like we should be looking at ourselves. He says “Unless you repent” a worse fate will come. I imagine Him telling me to go and take a long look in the mirror. But when I do, it doesn’t take long for me to see first one sin, then another. Pretty soon, my heart is heavy and I’m promising I’ll do things differently. Then, I leave the mirror, and all my faults go with me. It’s like Paul says in Romans 7 “O wretched man that I am! The things I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do are the very things I end up doing!”
Jesus uses a parable to describe this in Luke 13. The owner of a fig tree becomes so obsessed with the flaw of the tree, that he becomes exasperated. “Cut it down!” he says, “I’m tired of not seeing any fruit on its limbs.”
“Cut it down!” He’s exasperated & has resigned himself that the tree is a failure. This is what happens when our eyes are fixed only on ourselves: we see our wretchedness, our fruitlessness. We might even be ready to give up. Thankfully, Jesus hasn’t told His hearers to look at themselves, any more than He has affirmed their fixation with others. Instead, He says simply this: Repent.
In other words, turn away from the ways that haven’t worked, and turn towards the One who can bring lasting change.
In Christ’s parable of the fig tree, it’s the gardener who takes this perspective. When the owner of the tree has threatened to cut it down, the gardener replies: “Master, wait! Give me one more year. I’ll change what I’m doing. I’ll build a wall around it to contain the soil. I’ll fortify the soil and enrich it with manure.” The gardener promises not to leave the tree to fend for itself. He’ll help it.
Christ offered himself as a gardener, not only to the crowd, but also to us. He’ll help us. For we all need help to be everything God made us to be. But first, we start by re-fixing our eyes on him. As we prepare to journey with the Presbytery and work for our congregation’s best future, it can seem to some of us to be a season of anxiety. But I believe that in fixing our eyes on Jesus, in expecting him to fulfill His promise of never leaving or forsaking, we will readily hear His voice and know the best way forward. There’s much that can distract us, but God in Christ will show the best way forward.
As the writer of Hebrews 12 puts it:
“Seeing as so many have gone ahead of us and lived lives fueled by faith
Let us also lay aside every weight,
and those hindrances that can so easily beset us
And let us run the race God has set before us
Fixing our eyes on Jesus”
Rev. Jeremy Bellsmith