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3 Lent - Luke 13:1-9

This week’s news isn’t really news.

In Washington, Robert Mueller has filed his report.

This will either save or destroy the country, which is threatened either by Democrats or

Republicans, or capitalists or socialists, or immigrants or Russians or somebody.

In Los Angeles, the Lakers have been eliminated from the playoffs, but sports talk radio

is there for us, exhaustively arguing about why.

In Bible study at Shepherd of the Valley, we read the story of a woman dragged before

Jesus and accused of adultery, followed by the story of a man born blind.

The disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Who sinned, that the Lakers are missing the playoffs?

Who sinned, that the United States isn’t what I think it should be?

Who sinned, that my family isn’t getting along and traffic is backed up and my

loved one needs healing?

Wee can all answer all these questions, because we’ve all had lots of training and practice

in playing the blame game.


Jesus gets word about a tragedy in Galilee and gets out in front of the news analysis.

Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were

worse than all other Galileans?

Or those eighteen you were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think

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.

Finger pointing is so garden of Eden.

You seriously haven’t gotten past that?

If you don’t stop playing the blame game, it will kill you too.

You must tear down and rebuild your thinking from the foundation.

You have to rewire your brain entirely.

Judgment and blaming lead to death.

Chase life instead.

Think in a completely different way.

The word for this in Greek is metanoia, a transformation of the mind.

We translate it repent.


Jesus starts the process by transforming the water cooler conversation.

Do you think there is a need to assign blame?

Let me tell you a story.

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.

Stop right there.

What idiot plants a fig tree in a vineyard?

Rev. James Richardson, who has studied with some of Napa’s finest vintners, laid out his

credentials in a sermon in order to say with authority:

No one – but no one – plants a fig tree in their vineyard.

A fig tree would consume too much ground water, the canopy would produce too much

shade, and the fig tree would attract birds that would eat the grapes.

Jesus is setting a mental trap.

Fig trees don’t belong in vineyards, and yet, there are instant spiritual associations

that come to mind as well.

The fig tree was the symbol of a rabbi.

The vineyard was the symbol of God’s people Israel.

Do rabbis belong in Israel?

One sentence in, the brain is overloaded—Jesus has already begun to dig around

assumptions and pile on manure.

Maybe our fruitless brains who waste so much soil on the blame game can be saved.

Jesus keeps digging, and the owner starts looking a little more credible.

He tells the gardener to cut it down: why should it be wasting the soil?

This is what church councils call “good stewardship.”

Why should this tree that doesn’t belong here in the first place be draining time and

money and energy from the real mission?

This outlier is compromising our effectiveness and should be removed.

The foolish owner is finally winning – at the blame game.

Until the gardener urges a ridiculous repentance.

Sir, let it alone for one more year (more time), until I dig around it (more effort)

and put manure on it (more money).

If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.

Because I won’t.

Because I refuse to judge and blame and kill.

Because I refuse to accept death as the definer of reality or an acceptable solution.

If that makes me wasteful, inefficient, naive, stupid, unfair to grapes, out of alignment

with vineyard values, insubordinate, whatever, fine.

In a world full of violence and death stoked by blame and fear, I am repenting; I am

thinking and going a different way.

I am getting down on my knees with dirty hands and cultivating life.

I am not asking who deserves blame; I am asking who needs extra love.

That’s where the story ends, but you can probably guess what will happen next.

The gardener gets fired.


After three years and still none of the fruit expected of messiah, the wise authorities cut

the rabbi down in order to save the vineyard.

His relentless foolishness of mercy and second chances didn’t overthrow Rome, it only

threatened the social order and spiritual production of God’s choice planting.

Repentance was too impractical and scary, and the strange kingdom it prepared people

for wasn’t politically forceful or effecient or effective.

So blame game wisdom prevailed, and they hung the silly gardener on a cross.

This is our verdict on God’s foolish ideas: why should mercy waste our precious time and effort and money and sweat and soil?

Now God is left with a lifeless, fruitless, pointless cross.

And God says, “I can bring life from this tree – give me one more weekend.”

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