Retribution Theology & The Parable of the Fig Tree: Dive Deeper 2.22.16

Our Lent Bible Study

During Lent we are exploring the liturgical readings for Lent, trying to learn more about the season of preparation leading up to Easter. What does Lent mean? What does it have to do with my personal faith life? These are the questions we try to wrestle with each week.

This is what we talked about this week

Luke 13:1-9

Last week we were off because of the ice and snow, this week we got back into the groove by looking at this upcoming Sunday's liturgical reading out of the Gospel of Luke. Our passage tonight falls in a section of Luke that is dealing with a readiness for the coming judgment. Jesus is teaching a lot about repentance and warning people of what is to come as he makes his way to Jerusalem. As Jesus prepares for his time in Jerusalem which will culminate with his death and resurrection, he is warning people to prepare themselves as well for their coming judgment. So, what does our passage tonight talk about?

We can break our passage into two sections

1. Calamity and Questions of Retribution Theology

In this first section Jesus tells us about two different disasters that occur. The first is that Pilate has a bunch of Gentiles killed in the temple while the second one tells us of 18 people who died after a tower fell on them. Horrible tragedies for sure but Jesus asks an important question about both of them; were the people who died more sinful than anyone else? While we may not think much of the question what Jesus is really asking here is did they get what they deserved and he's wrestling with the idea of retribution theology.

Retribution theology is the belief that God restores justice through vengeful violence or "bad people get what's coming to them." This was a popular school of theological thought in Judaism and in many circles of Christianity. We get this image of God as a just and vengeful God who demands justice for transgressions. When Job has everything in his life destroyed and taken away his friends tell him to repent for what he has done (even though we know that he is blameless) This is the heart of retribution theology, that people get what they deserve and if something bad happens to them it is because they did something bad to deserve it.

So Jesus challenges this idea of retribution theology by asking, did these people deserve to die more than anyone else? And the answer is no, he says that we all are in the wrong and face justice. He warns of a coming judgment and that we must repent and prepare. 

2. The Parable of the Fig Tree

Next we hear a story of a tree that is not bearing fruit and the owner wants to tear it up and get rid of it. The gardener asks for one more chance for the tree to bear fruit. If we try to flesh out this allegory one potential interpretation might be 

Tree/Vineyard = Israel, Us
Gardener = Jesus
Man = God
3 years = Jesus’ ministry

The tree is given one more chance to bear fruit, but we don’t hear how the story ends. We're left to wonder, does the tree bear fruit and make it? It's an open ending because it's up to us. 

What does this have to do with me?

Lent is a season of preparation and during that season we remember the purpose and reason for Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus dies to save us but he also promises a day of future judgment. Lent is a time where we reflect on our relationship and standing with God, in part, for preparation of his judgment. Where are you not bearing fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) in your life?