Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday in Lent

Luke BTCBThis excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 13:1-9:

The question about evil and its causes—or about evil and its relation to justice—can of course be asked in many ways. The epitome in biblical literature for theodicy examined from the perspective of unjust suffering is surely the book of Job; looked at from the other end, as a question about why the practitioners of evil seem to prosper as their victims suffer, it take theological form in Ps. 73.

Here it is the first perspective in which the question is raised, though the second hovers over it, since the Roman oppression was on everybody’s mind. In order to address the issue more fundamentally, Jesus adds to it the fate of some people killed in an accidental manner, perhaps through a flaw of engineering long unnoticed. Talbert suggests that the issue might well have been raised because some in the audience took absence of tragedy as a sign of God’s blessing, while thinking that “trouble is God’s punishment for sin”; the effect would be as much as to say, “Our lives are tranquil. . . why should we repent?” (2002: 145).

Whatever the motives of “some” in the crowd for turning to this subject, Jesus has an astringent answer: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no.” The idea of a necessary causal connection between personal sin and the experience of suffering is here dismissed in a word.

But there is a more pressing, more universal question, and that is the question of the human sinfulness, from which no one is free, and its deeper consequences, from which no unredeemed person is exempt. Accordingly, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). In the context of Jesus’s immediately preceding eschatological remarks, this almost certainly means “perish eternally.”

The fig tree parable (13:6-9), as Cyril of Alexandria observed sixteen hundred years ago, is such that “the literal sense. . . does not need a single word of explanation” (1983: Homily 96). The fig tree has captured the attention of many an allegorist, however, and in the spiritual sense it has been associated with Israel, the synagogue, and even all humanity. Perhaps (as Bock 1994-96: 2.1208 and others suggest) it involves an allusion to Mic. 7:1-6, a passage already invoked in Luke 12:53.

Regardless, the net interpretation is unmistakable: God’s judgment regarding fruitfulness is imminent. This seems to weigh in favor of it being in its context a parable primarily about Israel.

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.