Hello and welcome to Friday’s podcast.
This week in Luke’s Gospel, we’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ words to the people he encounters on the road. And at the heart of what Jesus has been saying – whether it’s rebuking the Pharisees and lawyers, warning the crowd or instructing his disciples – is that God calls us to live a better, a more fruitful life. God wants us to grow. To grow in confidence in who he is, and how we live out our faith in response to that.
As we end this week, we move from focusing on what the signs of spiritual growth look like: a confidence in our expressing our faith, trusting God, living generously – to asking the deeper, more underlying question and that is – How do we change? How do we grow?
Our reading today is Luke 13: 1-17. We’re going to focus on verse 6-9 which is a parable Jesus uses:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
As we saw yesterday, Jesus provokes a response in people. Jesus’ mission here on Earth was about bringing change to society and the vehicle he uses to do that is through bringing about change in our lives.. The issue is we, in our humanity, often don’t want to change– but actually as we see in today’s reading – it’s also something we can’t really achieve just by ourselves.
The man who owns the vineyard, a classic image for God used in the Bible, comes seeking fruit. It’s kind of obvious when you think about it. You plant a tree; you want to see some fruit! We were created to bear fruit. We go back to creation and God’s mandate for human life is to…. , Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (Gen 1:28). Jesus tells his disciples –‘I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit (John 15:16).’
We were created for a purpose! God wants us to grow.
Here’s the challenge though from this parable: The man looking after the vineyard says look, ‘Leave it one more year, until I dig around it a bit, put on some manure, see what happens – if it’s not grown any fruit by next year then you can cut it down’. That word ‘if’ used there in the passage already seems to be a resignation here that the tree won’t actually end up bearing any fruit at all.
Why? Because we can’t manufacture true growth. We can’t ultimately change ourselves all on our own. Sure, we can try a bit harder. We can get more disciplined. We can read our Bible a bit more, get a bit more proactive in praying for others, make a bit more of an effort chatting to new people in my community, maybe start serving on a team at church – all really good things and all things that God wants for our lives but…if I’m the one constantly making it all happen, it’s all a bit forced, a bit mechanical. And the thing that is reliant on keeping all that going…is us and our own will power. Our own will power is finite. We are, by our very nature, inconsistent. Things get in the way. Obstacles come along. Challenge hits us. We get stuck!
There is another way for us to view change/growth and that is that it becomes a way of life. Our actions, our behaviours, our lifestyle are simply a response to what’s happening on the inside. On Monday – we were reminded of the truth that God brings change and that he does so from the inside out.
We can’t change ourselves; God changes us.
When we look at the Old Testament we see how God’s people were incapable of truly changing and still God gives them this promise: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my law (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
God changes us. He puts in us a new Spirit. He moves us to walk in his ways. And so as we reach the end of this week’s podcast, as we as a church here at STC head into module three of our Grow Project, it’s a good reminder for us that it’s the Spirit of God who brings about change within us. And that we are to seek him. To open up our lives to him. And that as we do so, we will change. We will live lives that bear fruit. We will grow.
Jesus, thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit. We welcome you into our lives afresh this day and say, ‘Come have your way in us Lord.’ Change us so that we might be more like your son. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
READING: Luke 13:1-17
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’
Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’
The Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?’
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.