Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Calls Us to Repent

Images from “Topography of Tears” by Rose-Lynn Fisher

Text used – Luke 13:1-9, 31-35

  • I want to share some images with you this morning. They’re from an exhibit and the resulting book by photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher. Both the exhibit and the book are called “The Topography of Tears.”[1]
    • [SHOW IMAGES]
    • Description from Amazon: “Does a tear shed while chopping onions look different from a tear of happiness? In this powerful collection of images, an award-winning photographer trains her optical microscope and camera on her own tears and those of men, women, and children, released in moments of grief, pain, gratitude, and joy, and captured upon glass slides. These duotone photographs reveal the beauty of recurring patterns in nature and present evocative, crystalline imagery for contemplation. Underscored by poetic captions, they translate the mysterious act of crying into an atlas mapping the structure and magnificence of our interior lives.”[2] → I have to confess that I find the whole scope and idea and intention of this project fascinating – the idea that the tears we cry for different occasions truly look different on a fundamental level, and yet, at the same time, there is also a powerful similarity in the microscopic make-up of those tears.
      • Tears of joy
      • Tears of grief
      • Tears of shame
      • Tears of relief
      • Tears of longing
      • Tears of frustration
    • Throughout Lent this year, we’re talking about the different roles that Jesus plays.
      • Last week = Jesus’ role as Compassionate One
      • This week = Jesus who calls us to repent → And today’s passage is a really interesting passage for taking a closer look at that role because I think it finds Jesus calling us to repent in some unexpected ways.
        • Usually think of a call to repentance as something sobering and solemn, even stern, maybe – a religious “calling to task,” if you will, sort of like being called to the principal’s office when you were a kid → But when we read these passages this morning, I think we hear a very different sort of call to repentance from Jesus – a gentler call, a compassionate call, a call that comes not from a place of judgment and severity but from a place of longing … longing for relationship, longing for restoration, longing for us.
  • Narrative Lectionary gave us these two portions of ch. 13 from Lk’s gospel this morning – vv. 1-9, then vv. 31-35 – so we’ve already got two different approaches to this call for repentance → But I think we can even divide that first part of our text into two distinct sections – Jesus’ conversation with the crowd being one and the parable of the of the barren fig tree being the other. So let’s take a look at each of these three calls to repentance on their own.
    • First = section titled “Demand for genuine change” or, more starkly, “Repent or Perish” in many Bibles
      • Context: part of a much larger portion of text in which Jesus is teaching a huge crowd somewhere outside of Jerusalem – begins back in ch. 12: When a crowd of thousands upon thousands had gathered so that they were crushing each other, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples.[3] → partway through Jesus’ discussion with his disciples, someone from the crowd raises a question for Jesus which redirects his attention (and his teaching) to the larger crowd[4] → today’s text = continuation of that teaching for the enormous crowd: Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices.[5]
        • Unfortunately not an event that we have any more historical information about → still clear that the event the crowd is telling Jesus about was a horrific one
          • Other translation = crowd “told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices”[6]
      • Passage just before what we read today = Jesus speaking about judgment, so someone in the crowd brings up this horrific act to ask Jesus if it was payback for the Galileans’ misdeeds – divine retribution, the idea that “they must have done something to deserve such a horrible fate”
        • Ultimately, the basic question of the crowd = certainly a question we still ask today: “Why do bad things happen to good people?
      • Jesus gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly – text: He replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”[7] → Jesus takes the discussion a step further by bringing in an example of not human-caused evil (as in the case of Pilate killing the Galileans while they made their sacrifices) but of natural evil = the falling of the tower of Siloam – text: What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.[8]
      • Jesus’ call to repentance in this portion of the passage is a more subtle call and comes in the form of the caution that he repeats for the crowd: “Unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.” → I hear a longing in this call. Maybe even an edge of desperation. First, Jesus is given the extreme example by the crowd – those who were murdered by Pilate in the midst of their act of sacred worship – but Jesus adds to that extreme example with his own, making it clear to the crowd that, while we can’t keep bad things from happening, we can guard our hearts and souls from the devastation of eternal death by repenting – by changing our hearts and lives and reorienting them toward God.
        • I hear Jesus as insistent
        • I hear Jesus as emphatic
        • I hear Jesus as trying to get this message of repentance across to the people around him because he knows exactly what’s at stake. If he were crying tears during this exchange, I imagine they’d be tears of anxiety … tears of fear … tears of concern. I wonder what those tears would have looked like. [PAUSE]
    • Second portion of the text = related to the first → parable of the fruitless fig tree[9]
      • Short parable about a vineyard owner who planted a fig tree → fig tree failed to produce year after year for three years in a row → vineyard own grew frustrated and ordered his gardener to give up on the useless tree and chop it down → gardener negotiates for the life of the tree, promising to give the recalcitrant tree some special attention → final declaration says it all: “Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”[10]
        • So let’s talk about fig trees a little bit.[11]
          • Probably the oldest cultivated fruit in the world → some suggestions that humans were planting and harvesting figs 10,000 yrs. ago
          • Grow in warmer climates that our own – native to SW Asia and Mediterranean regions (think Afghanistan to Portugal)
          • Known to live as long as 200 yrs.
          • Produce 1-2 crops of figs per year, depending on the variety
          • Somewhat fickle plant that requires some pretty precise growing conditions, cultivation practices, pruning, irrigation, etc.
      • Fickle … somewhat difficult … requires special attention … sound anything like any human beings you know? Ahhhh … the parable becomes a little clearer.
        • Parable = reminiscent of passage from Exodus where Moses is negotiating with God for the lives of the people of Israel → God has grown angry and frustrated with the fickleness of the Israelites after they made the golden calf → contemplating destroying the Israelites à Moses intercedes on behalf of the people and convinces God to spare them[12]
        • Parable = God is the frustrated vineyard owner, we are the delinquent fig tree, and Jesus is the gardener who promises extra care and attention in a desperate hope for fruit → In this short but powerful parable, we hear Jesus’ call to repentance not in anger or frustration but in compassion. Just like the gardener who was willing to spend his own time and get his hands dirty caring for the fruitless fig tree, Jesus was willing to come down into the messiness of humanity to dwell among us in an attempt to restore our relationship with God – a relationship that bears fruit like we never could have imagined: hope, unconditional love, the glory of God’s kingdom, and above all, grace.
          • Compassionate call to repentance
          • Loving call to repentance
          • If Jesus cried tears with the telling of this parable, I imagine they’d be tears of hopefulness … tears of reverence … tears of devotion. I wonder what those tears would have looked like. [PAUSE]
    • Final portion of our text today = definitely a challenging portion → cryptic, prophetic, and troubling
      • Begins with quite the role reversal: Pharisees coming to warn Jesus: At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”[13] → definitely not the role we’ve grown accustomed to the Pharisees playing throughout any of the gospels
        • Some scholars believe this to be an act of political intrigue/subterfuge on the part of the Pharisees[14]
        • However, in other places in the gospels we’re told about a few Pharisees – namely Nicodemus[15] and Joseph of Arimathea[16] – who have heard and believed the message of Jesus despite the suspicion and plotting of the rest of their religious brethren. Perhaps it was one of them that came to Jesus in our passage this morning.
      • No matter who it was that brought the message or their intentions, we hear Jesus’ call to repentance in both defiance and even desperate longing in this final portion this morning
        • Defiance in Jesus’ determination to continue embodying his ministry and delivering his message even in the face of Herod’s threats – text: Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”[17] → Jesus knows what is of utmost importance here: the mission that God gave him – to seek and save the lost. Jesus knows what is coming. He knows that is time is drawing to a close – that this message about Herod’s intentions is only the beginning. If he were crying tears during this exchange, I imagine they’d be tears of pain … tears of frustration … tears of conviction. I wonder what those tears would have looked like. [PAUSE]
      • Finally, Jesus turns his attention from the Pharisee messengers to Jerusalem itself in his most explicit call to repentance: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”[18]
        • Scholar captures the poignancy and power in this passage: The lament of Jesus is unrequited. Jerusalem is unwilling to cease killing the prophets and stoning the messengers. This is part of being human. Jerusalem is not alone or special in this regard. All people, from all cultures, in all times, find ways to reject the fullness of what God desires to give. … We do not travel perfectly; it is not in our nature to do so. Whenever we stray off course, if we listen, we will hear Holy Mother Jesus shaking his head, saying how he longs to gather us up into a protective embrace. We have a traveling companion who walks with us today, tomorrow, and the next day.[19] → In this final portion, we hear longing and unconditional love in Jesus’ call to repentance. Not judgment. Not retribution. Not an intent to shame or deride or subdue us for the mistakes and the sins that require our repentance. Love. Longing. And a desire for us. If he were crying tears during this discourse, I imagine they’d be tears of yearning … tears of adoration … tears of love. I wonder what those tears would have looked like. [PAUSE]

[1] Rose-Lynn Fisher. The Topography of Tears. (New York, NY: Bellevue Literary Press), 2017.

[2] https://smile.amazon.com/Topography-Tears-Rose-Lynn-Fisher/dp/1942658281/ref=sr_1_1?crid=92D0ACXPA5UT&dchild=1&keywords=topography+of+tears&qid=1614516906&sprefix=topogra%2Caps%2C218&sr=8-1.

[3] Lk 12:1a.

[4] Lk 12:13.

[5] Lk 13:1.

[6] Lk 13:1 (NRSV).

[7] Lk 13:2-3.

[8] Lk 13:4-5.

[9] Lk 13:6-9.

[10] Lk 13:9.

[11] Paul Alfrey. “Dig the Fig – The Essential Guide to All You Need to Know About Figs” from The Permaculture Research Institute, https://www.permaculturenews.org/2016/09/30/dig-fig-essential-guide-need-know-figs-ficus-carica/#:~:text=The%20fruiting%20cycle%20is%20120,as%20long%20as%20200%20years. Posted Sept. 30, 2016, accessed Feb. 28, 2021.

[12] Ex 32:9-14.

[13] Lk 13:31.

[14] Debra J. Mumford. “Luke 13:31-35 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Luke, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 51, 53.

[15] Jn 3:1-21.

[16] Lk 23:50-53.

[17] Lk 13:32-33.

[18] Lk 13:34-35.

[19] James Burns. “Luke 13:31-35 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Luke, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 54.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Calls Us to Repent

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Comes | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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