“What Is Missing in Your Life?”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
March 24, 2019
Lent is a time for reflection and renewal. Few passages in the gospels encourage this more than today’s text.
It is a portion of the travel narrative in Luke, a description of the journey Jesus and the disciples took from Galilee to Jerusalem to observe Passover. These ten chapters in Luke (9:51-19:48) give us details of where Jesus went and what he did along the way.
As Jesus passed through towns and villages, it was common for people to stop what they were doing to go see Jesus and to listen to him teach. Evidently, based upon the content of the preceding chapter, a large group of people had gathered around Jesus.
On two occasions while Jesus was talking, someone interrupted him and asked a question. Our text opens with a third interruption, this time to tell Jesus about Pilate ordering a massacre of worshipers as they offered their sacrifices in the Temple.
Obviously, this tragic news was on everyone’s mind that day, and they were quite upset. Being the perceptive teacher he was, Jesus went off script and addressed both the news of the day and their struggle with it.
It appears some people in the crowd wanted to engage Jesus in a discussion about the role sin plays in suffering. Perhaps they even asked Jesus if this massacre was proof of sin in the lives of these Galileans and God’s judgment upon them? Had these people been targeted by God to die that day?
Jesus wasted no time telling his audience God did not use Pilate to unmercifully slaughter this group of people any more than God used the tower of Siloam to kill eighteen innocent victims when it suddenly fell.
In both instances, those who died just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their deaths were tragic and even broke God’s heart.
Jesus used this opportunity, however, to call on all listening to him to quit rebelling against the Romans lest they also die a violent death. The Romans did not have to be driven out of this region for God’s people to embrace kingdom values and to be faithful to the covenant their ancestors made with God.
Jesus then turned the crowd’s attention from the past to the present, from death to life and from despair to hope by telling a parable about a barren fig tree. Seems the owner of this vineyard was quite upset with a fig tree that he believed should have had fruit on it. It had been given ample attention and care by the gardener, but for some reason it was not bearing fruit.
He promptly told the gardener to cut it down and probably started walking away when the gardener made an unusual request. He asked to be given one more year to nurture and nourish the fig tree to see if it would produce fruit. If his efforts were in vain, then he would offer no resistance and cut it down.
What happened to the fig tree? Good question, but there is no answer. The parable ends as abruptly as it began. Perhaps Jesus wanted each of us to write the ending based upon an evaluation of the fruit we are bearing as we live out our faith before others.
I am intrigued by this parable.
Who was Jesus’ audience and why did he tell this parable that day? Why did Luke include it in his account of Jesus’ ministry? After all, he is the only writer who did. What should this parable compel us to do? How can it help us on our Lenten journey of self-discovery and renewal?
Let’s spend a few minutes with these questions. Before we do, I want to explain my interpretation of the meaning of the word ‘fruit’ mentioned in this parable.
For me, fruit is a symbol of two things: who we are and what we are doing. It is a reference to the kind of person we are–what we value and consider important—and how we are using our time, talents, resources, influence and power.
Those who embrace kingdom values bear fruit. Those who choose to pursue the world’s values over kingdom values do not bear the kind of fruit God longs to see and others need from us.
Now, let’s turn our attention to these questions.
Who was Jesus’ audience that day and why did he tell this particular parable? As I said earlier, there was a large crowd that had assembled to listen to Jesus teach. Included in that number were many influential religious leaders who wielded much power in their communities.
By this time in Jesus’ ministry, he was disappointed in many of these religious leaders. He felt they had misplaced their values and priorities and were using their position for personal gain.
There was a big gap between where they were and where Jesus thought they should be. They were not the people he thought they should be, and they were certainly not doing what he thought they should be doing.
From Jesus’ perspective, what was missing? The list is staggering, based upon a reading of the previous chapters in Luke’s travel narrative.
Honesty, integrity, empathy, compassion, mercy, grace, patience, generosity, humility, a holy curiosity, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, respect for all people, the pursuit of justice, a loving heart, a forgiving spirit, and a willingness to make sacrifices on behalf of others.
Jesus was disappointed in them because they were not passionate about confronting evil, righting wrong, lifting up the lowly, liberating the oppressed, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, giving people a second chance and building bridges of goodwill, understanding, reconciliation, peace and hope instead of erecting walls of suspicion and hate.
Why did he think they should have been bearing this kind of fruit? They had the words of the prophets, who clearly outlined these expectations. Evidently, they chose to ignore them, and Jesus exposed their insincerity and hypocrisy and called on them to repent before they perished and took the entire nation down with them.
Why did Luke include this parable in his gospel? He did not want his readers to make the same mistakes the religious leaders in Jesus’ time made. He wanted them to be fruit-bearing disciples who remained faithful to God by embracing kingdom values over the world’s values, something they could do by listening to the voice of the prophets and following Jesus’ example.
How does this parable speak us to do today? I believe it compels us to examine our lives to see if we are bearing the kind of fruit that honors and pleases God.
At this stage in life and at this point on my spiritual journey, am I bearing the fruit God and others thought they would see?
Am I the kind of person I need to be and am I using my time, talents, resources, influence, power and opportunities in ways that make the world better for all people?
Is this a fruitful period in my life or have I become distracted and misplaced my priorities?
What kind of fruit do I need to bear to help my church through this time of transition?
What is missing in my life now that I may even be unaware of?
I wonder how other people would answer that last question. What would your parents say is missing in your life? Your teacher? Your coach? Your mate? Your children? Your best friend? Your neighbors? Your co-workers? Your employees? Your church staff? Your Sunday school teacher?
Lent is a time for identifying missing fruit and doing something about it.
I must caution you, though, this is not easy. This level of self-awareness requires an extraordinary amount of honesty, humility and interest in doing what is right. The resistance to doing this can be overwhelming.
We are prone to be satisfied with who we are, where we are and what we are doing at every stage of life. We are usually comfortable with the status quo and quickly become defensive when confronted with our blind spots or our faults are put on display.
Furthermore, it is extremely hard to see what is missing in our lives when for the most part our lives are filled with less important things. Our problem is not a lack of stuff; it is just the wrong stuff. We have lost the ability to differentiate between trash, trinkets and treasures, and as a result are pursuing the wrong things in life.
This is why we need the two main characters in this parable, the owner of the vineyard and the gardener. We need someone who helps us identify what is missing and holds us accountable. We also need an advocate who believes in us and an encourager who will nourish and nurture us along this journey toward self-awareness and renewal.
Where are you in this parable? Who are you?
Are you the disappointing barren fig tree who needs to make some changes?
Are you the owner who needs to have a candid conversation with someone who is underachieving?
Are you the gardener who needs to instill confidence and hope in someone who is struggling?
Wherever you are and whoever you are, God wants to walk alongside you and help you do what is needed. I pray you will open your heart and life to God’s gracious offer.