One More Year (Luke 13:6-9)

Luke 13v6-9 looking for figs

In the house where we live there is one part of the yard which was pretty much just dirt and weeds when we moved in. Over the we have lived there, I have been slowly working on the patch to turn it into more of a garden. One plant I put in was doing well to begin with, but a couple of months ago it started losing its leaves and turning brown. I began to ask myself whether this plant was worth saving, or whether I should pull it out and plant something in its place which was going to do better in that spot.

I think most people who have worked in gardens would have been in a similar position to the person in Jesus’ story that we read about in Luke 13:6-9. He comes back time after time to see if his fig tree was producing any fruit, but it never does. In some ways, this is a pretty simple parable to interpret: the owner of the garden is God, and each of us is the fig tree.

This parable starts to get more challenging when we begin to ask what the fruit is that God is looking for in our lives. There are a number of ways in which we could interpret the fruit, but whenever I hear the Bible talk about fruit I think straight away of what Paul says in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (NLT)

The way I’m thinking about the fruit that God comes looking for in our lives, then, is that he is looking to see if our faith is producing:

  • love like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13, especially for people who are hard to love or who don’t love us
  • joy, even in the most tragic or difficult of circumstances
  • peace in the middle of life’s storms, conflicts and uncertainties
  • patience with people who frustrate or annoy us
  • kindness towards those who are unkind to us
  • the goodness of God in everything we think, say and do
  • faithfulness to the promises we have made to others, especially when it’s easier to break our promises, and to God for all of his goodness and grace to us through Jesus
  • gentleness, even with people who may be rough or hostile towards us
  • self-control in situations when it would be easier to let our emotions or feelings get the better of us

This story gives us a way to understand what the Christian life us about. I often talk with people who tell me that being a Christian is about going to church, or bringing other people to church, or getting to heaven when we die. This story says to me, however, that when God looks at our lives, he is looking to see if we are producing these kinds of fruit. This is the purpose and goal of living as Jesus’ disciples – to be growing to maturity so we can produce fruit in our lives and be sowing this kind of fruit into the lives of the people around us.

This is a great text for the New Year because it gives us a chance to look back at the past year and reflect on whether or not our lives have been producing this kind of fruit in our relationships with others. Most of us will probably be able to see times when we have produced fruit like Paul describes. However, there are other times when we have failed to produce these fruit. We are all growing and maturing, like any plant in our gardens. Every living thing is continually growing and maturing. We have times when the fruit is plentiful, but also others when the fruit is more scarce. What is important is that we are growing, because when something’s growing, it means it’s alive.

The good news of this text is that the owner of the garden doesn’t cut the fig tree down or even leave it to do its own thing. Instead, the gardener steps in and offers to care for it by giving it ‘special attention and plenty of fertilizer’ (v8 NLT). This character in the story is Jesus himself who intercedes for us by pleading for us with the Father and then promises to care for us. Jesus is the one who feeds us with his love, nurtures us with his grace, provides for us in his mercy, and grows us as his people. I won’t grow the struggling plant in my garden by telling it to grow stronger. Neither does Jesus grow us by telling us what to do. Instead, by being born and living a human life for us, by dying on the cross and then being raised to new life, Jesus has done everything that we need to grow into healthy, mature people of God so we can produce the fruit that God is looking for in our lives.

Jesus grows us to maturity in his grace through the waters of Baptism and the word of forgiveness. He provides food and drink for us as he gives us his blood and body, his perfect and eternal life, in the wine and bread of Holy Communion. Through our connection with and participation in Christian community, Jesus is there by his Holy Spirit to care for us and provide us with everything we need to grow as his strong, healthy, fruit-producing body of believers. Jesus commits himself to us, just like the gardener in this story, in the hope that as we grow and mature in his grace and love, our lives will produce the fruit of a vibrant and living faith which our heavenly Father is looking for.

I decided not to pull out the plant that wasn’t doing well in my garden. Instead, I committed to take care of it and water more regularly. Now, its leaves are growing back and it’s starting to flower again. This is what God plans for each of us. Through the care his Son gives us and by the power of his Spirit, God wants us to be strong and healthy in our faith so that our lives produce the fruit he is looking for. We can’t do it alone – to be strong, mature people of God we need the grace and love Jesus extends to us through a community of believers. My hope and prayer is that we can all live in the forgiveness, goodness and new life of Jesus this coming year so that our lives produce the fruit our heavenly Father is looking for by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we can then sow the seeds of his goodness into the lives of others.

The Naming of Jesus (Luke 2:21)

mary-joseph-baby-jesus-01-small

When I was a child, there were always things I had to do before I was allowed to watch television. I had to finish my homework, clean up my toys, tidy my room and wash the dishes. Only when they were done was I allowed to turn on the TV and watch my favourite shows.

There are lots of people who think that this is how Christianity works: you do what you have to do by obeying a lot of rules, and if you get them all done and do them well enough, you might be able to get to heaven. If you don’t do them well enough, or fail to do them at all, then, a lot of people think, you don’t make it in.

Jesus was born into a religious system that believed this way. For the Jews of Jesus’ time, people needed to keep the Law of Moses, written in the first five books of the Bible, if they wanted to be God’s people. Among these laws, in Leviticus 12:3, Jewish parents were commanded to circumcise their sons on the eighth day after they were born to signify that they were a part of the covenant that God had established with Abraham. Circumcision identified Jewish males that they were one of God’s holy people.

It is easy to skip over Luke 2:21 when we read this part of the Bible. However, this verse is very significant in the story of Jesus saving the world. By being circumcised, Jesus began to fulfil the Law of Moses in order to free us from the demands it makes on us. In Galatians 4:4,5 Paul writes,

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. (NLT)

Jesus became subject to the Law of Moses in order to free us from its rules so we can live in freedom as God’s children. It is like Jesus turning up at my house when I was a child to do all the things I needed to do before I could watch TV, so that I could skip over the difficult things and enjoy the good stuff. What is different is that instead of having a few chores to do around the house, the Law of Moses dictated every aspect of life, and the goal is not just watching TV, but a life spent as God’s children, now and for eternity. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come to abolish what God’s law demands of us, but to fulfil its demands. Jesus’ circumcision was his first step in fulfilling the demands of God’s law in order to free us from the law. As some commentators have said, in his circumcision, Jesus shed his first blood for the redemption of the world.

Jesus fulfilling the law for us is important for us in a couple of ways. Firstly, if a relationship with God and eternal life was up to me keeping God’s law, then I could never know if I have done enough or done it well enough. When I fail at loving God and loving others, there will always be doubts about whether I have done what I need to do to be good enough in God’s sight. Jesus fulfilling God’s law, beginning with his circumcision, means that we can find rest and peace in the faith that Jesus has done everything for us. This is grace: that Jesus has done for us what we can’t do ourselves by keeping God’s Law perfectly, and then he gives us the benefit – a new relationship with God as his children and a life that is even stronger than death.

Jesus keeping God’s Law for us also means that we don’t have to spend our lives trying to be good enough for God. Jesus makes us good by giving his perfect life to us as a gift. We can then give our lives to others as an act of grace to them. The big difference between Christianity and other religions is that their whole focus is on trying to be good enough so they can reach their spiritual goal for themselves. This is essentially self-serving. When we live a life of faith, trusting that we are already good because of Jesus’ obedience to the Law, then we can spend our time and efforts loving other people and extending grace to them. We can focus on others because Jesus has already taken care of what we need. Living a life that pleases God is still important because our actions and the way we treat others are the most effective ways of giving witness to our faith. People look for evidence of what we believe in what we do much more than what we say. When we trust that Jesus has done everything for us, then we are free as his followers and disciples to forget about ourselves and live in love for others.

For Christians, New Year’s Day is about a lot more than beginning another calendar year. The eighth day after Jesus’ birth is about him beginning to obey God’s law as he is circumcised. As Paul tells us, Jesus did this to free us from rules and laws and expectations. Because of Jesus’ obedience, and the blood he shed in his circumcision and on the cross, he gives us his goodness so we can be called children of God and live in the freedom that comes with that faith. Today is not just about making resolutions which we may or may not keep. It is about finding freedom through faith in Jesus’ obedience for us, so we can serve each other in love.

More to think about:

  • Did you make any New Year resolutions this year? If you did, what are they? If you didn’t, why not?
  • If you have ever made New Year’s resolutions, have you been successful in keeping them? If people find it difficult to live up to the expectations we place on ourselves, why do we think we are able to live up to God’s expectation of us?
  • Read through the book of Leviticus. What do you think it would be like to live in a culture that expected people to obey every thing it commands?
  • As Christians, we can easily take our freedom for granted, but Paul’s words in Galatians 4:4,5 explain that we only have our freedom because Jesus obeyed God’s law for us, beginning with his circumcision. How can that freedom also help to free us from the expectations other people might have on us, and even we might have on ourselves?
  • Instead of using our freedom selfishly, Jesus teaches us to use our freedom to love others (see Galatians 5:13,14). If there is someone in your life who has expectations of you, how can you use your freedom to love that person this week?