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A Narrative Reading Based on Israel’s Rejection of Christ: Luke 12:54-13:21 Part II

December 22, 2010

III. LUKE 13:1-5

The beginning of Luke 13 begins with the words “Now on the same occasion,” supplying a temporal indication that what follows occurs in the context of the preceding section.[1] Some among “the crowds” whom Jesus had just warned initiate a discussion concerning the destruction of a group of Galileans.  Though we are not privy to the exact nature of the discussion, we may surmise that some have connected the tragic end of these Galileans with the judgment that Jesus has just announced.  By displacing judgment on a group of Galileans, those “present” are still not “judging” the present time for themselves, and therefore, Jesus quickly redirects them by denying that these deceased Galileans are “greater sinners” than all other Galileans.  Instead, Jesus again addresses “the crowds”:  “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3).[2] In other words, “settle your accounts quickly” (Lk. 12:58).

More pertinent to our present discussion, however, is the fact that Jesus then follows with another tragic event in the destruction of a group of Jerusalemites.  Though those in the crowds have directed judgment to a group of Galileans, Jesus redirects judgment back to Israel itself by announcing the demise of some of their very own.[3] If a group of Jerusalemites could be killed, and they were not “greater sinners” than anyone else in the crowd, then the imminent judgment that Jesus speaks of in vv 57-59 can be for no one else but for those present who are not “judging” right the present time.  Yet, we know that this cannot just be for those specific few present with him at that moment, for the crowds have been following Jesus from the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem.  Once again, it seems that Jesus is warning those in Israel itself, who have not oriented themselves to Christ’s ministry that their judgment is coming quickly: “Those who rightly judge the present time will not interpret this in an undetached way as an event involving only the unfortunate victims because they were greater sinners than all other Jerusalemites.  No!  To those who judge rightly the event is a pointer to a destruction that threatens all Jerusalemites, if they do not repent.”[4] If this were not enough, Jesus follows the demand to repent with another parable of immanent judgment in the parable of the fig tree (Lk. 13:6-9).

IV. LUKE 13:6-9

The parable of the fig tree, like the parable of the debtor’s prison (Lk. 12:57-59) has traditionally been interpreted in a variety of ways.[5] However, based on the connection with the previous sections[6] and prior usage of the fig tree as a symbol for Israel (Hos. 9:10; Jer. 8:13; Mic. 7:1),[7] this parable should be interpreted as reinforcing the threat of judgment issued by Jesus and the subsequent command to “repent” in 13:1-5.  It is thus a warning, reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets, toward Israel.  Though it is a warning, it is not merely that, for as the parable itself indicates, there is still time to repent.   In fact, Fred Craddock notes this Lukan method of juxtaposing contrasting ideas when he writes, “Luke follows the immediately preceding image of judgment with this call to repentance, and he follows the call to repentance (vv.1-5) with a parable of divine patience (vv.6-9).”[8] It would seem, however, that Craddock goes too far in calling this a parable of “divine patience,” for as the context shows, Jesus has been and is calling Israel is to repent “now.”  Instead, this parable should be interpreted in light of other Old Testament-esque prophecies, where Israel is strongly urged to repent immediately in light of the fact that God has been gracious in delaying judgment.

More pertinent to the context of this entire section, though, is that this parable contains no ending.  Since Lk. 12:54, Jesus has been urging the crowds to repent so that they avoid the judgment that appears to be so eminent.  Jesus gives the parable to express the leniency of God up to this point, but also to further reinforce the need to repent.  The “crowds” or Israel has not yet been visited with judgment.  Green expresses a moment of hope, when he writes, “Not incidentally, the parable also holds for the possibility of fruit-bearing in spite of a history of sertility—or, in human terms, the possibility of change leading to faith expressed in obedience to God’s purpose.  If it announces a warning of judgment, then, it also dramatizes hope.”[9] It is at this point that this parable becomes important to Luke’s narrative structure in connecting the preceding announcements of judgment with the proceeding encounter in the synagogue.  As readers of Luke’s narrative, and in relation to the openness to the fig tree parable, we may ask the following question:  Will we see any change in Israel’s response to the ministry of Christ?  Will Israel repent?


[1] de…en auto to kairo.
[2]
Franklin Young makes a similar point:  “The warning seems to be against the hearers distancing themselves from the event, not only by dissociating themselves from the unfortunates by an implied claim of differentiation through being less sinful, but also by denying the event any personal address to their own situation.  Such a response would reflect their inability to judge for themselves ‘what is right’ [emphasis mine].”  In,  “Luke 13:1-9,” Interpretation 31.1 (January 1977): 61.
[3]
Though Galilee geographically falls within the bounds of Israel, Galilee itself was known as heavily influenced by Hellenism.  It would be easy for “faithful” Israelites to look at them as “more” sinful.  Jerusalem, on the other hand, was considered the hub of faithful Judaism.  This makes Jesus’ statements all the more startling.
[4]
Young, “Luke 13:1-9,” 61.
[5]
Charles Hedrick, “An Unfinished Story about a Fig Tree in a Vineyard (Luke 13:6-9),” Perspectives in Religious Studies 26.2 (1999), 170.  Hedrick mentions allegorical, moral, and metaphorical interpretations surveying the variety of ways in which others have interpreted it.
[6]
The word de marks this section.  Translated as “and” or “then” connects this parable directly with Jesus’ statements concerning repentance in 12:57-13:5.
[7]
David Tiede, Luke, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 247.  See also Tinsley, The Gospel According to Luke, 146.
[8]
Craddock, Luke, 167.
[9]
Green, The Gospel of Luke, 515.  Though I disagree strongly with the final conclusions of Hedrick concerning this parable, he also writes of this parable offering hope way of connecting it with the proceeding section.  Though he chooses not to retain this interpretation (It would have been better had he done so!), his thoughts concerning it are worth noting:  “The story about a tree that did not bear is followed by a healing story about a woman bent over for 18 years who was healed (Luke 13:10-17), a story about a mustard seed that became a tree (Luke 13:18-19); and a story about a tiny bit of yeast that caused more than a bushel of flour to rise (Luke 13:20-21).  Why should Luke’s story be read with what precedes instead of what follows?” “An Unfinshed Story,” 187.  Because I think that this story should be read in light of the previous section and the following section, I cannot come to this conclusion, but it does offer interesting points of intersection.

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