In this passage from Isaiah, the prophet offers Jews in exile a message of hope. Food costs money, lasts only a short time, and meets only physical needs. But God offers us free nourishment that feeds our soul. How do we get it? We are to come, listen, seek, and call on God. God’s salvation is freely offered, but to nourish our souls we must willingly ask for it. We will starve spiritually without this food as surely as we will starve physically without our daily bread.
God’s covenant with David promised a permane¬nt homeland for the Israelites, no threat from pagan nations, and no wars. But Israel did not fulfill its part of the covenant to obey God and stay away from idols. Even so, God was ready to renew his covenant again. He is a forgiving God!
Isaiah tells the Israelite (and us) to call on the Lord while he is nea¬r. God is not planning to move away from us, but we often move far from him or erect barriers of sin between us. We mustn’t wait until we have drifted away from God, to seek him; turning to
him may be much more difficult later in life. We must seek God now, while we can, before it is too late.
The people of Israel were foolish to act as if they knew what God was thinking and planning. His knowledge and wisdom are far greater than any human’s. We are foolish to try to fit God into our mould—to make his plans and purposes conform to ours. Instead we must try to fit with his plans.
We talk a lot in Church and society today about inclusion – of gender, sexuality, culture, disability or age. This passage celebrates inclusion. However, one of the most potent ways people are socially and culturally excluded is precisely when they have to worryx about where the money will come from to pay for their daily food. The extravagance of the imagery in verses 1 to 3 remind us of God’s radical inclusiveness, and stands starkly against the prevalence of poverty, and as a judgement on our seeming indifference. God offers spiritual food to all, regardless of their economic status, while we find ways of excusing economic systems which exclude the poor from having a fulfilling life. We even have theories as to why they are so often absent from our comfortable churches. Yet God makes no distinctions; and God’s inclusiveness contrasts with our comfortable acceptance of economic and other forms of exclusion.
There was once a questionnaire which asked, “Who is really welcome in your church?” with boxes to be ticked ranging from ‘very welcome’ to `not really welcome’. Various individuals were then described and the respondents asked to consider, truthfully, how welcome each would be if they walked through the church door on a Sunday morning. For example, person (a) might be an elderly single man. Person (b) might be a young operatic singer. Person (c) might be a wealthy businessman. Everything seemed straightforward until it came to the other individuals on the list. Person (d) someone in an openly gay relationship, person (e) a dishevelled man with the smell of alcohol on his breath, person (f) someone in the community with a known criminal record.
Where do we really stand in relation to this?
At this time some men came and told Jesus about the Galilaeans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. “Do you think,” he answered, “that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans because this happened to them? I tell you, No! But unless you repent you will all perish in like manner. Or, as for the eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell–do you think they were debtors to God beyond all those who dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you, No! But unless you repent you will perish in the same way .”
We have here references to two disasters about which we have no definite information and can only speculate.
First, there is the reference to the Galilaeans whom Pilate murdered in the middle of their sacrifices. Galilaeans were always liable to get involved in political trouble because they were a highly inflammable people. Pilate had decided rightly that Jerusalem needed a new and improved water supply. He proposed to build it and to finance it with Temple money. It was a praiseworthy project and a more than justifiable expenditure. But at the very idea of spending Temple money like that, the Jews were up in arms. When the mobs gathered, Pilate instructed his soldiers to mingle with them, wearing cloaks over their battle dress for disguise. They were instructed to carry cudgels rather than swords. At a given signal they were
to fall on the mob and disperse them. This was done, but the soldiers dealt with the mob with a violence far beyond their instructions and a considerable number of people lost their lives, and almost certainly Galilaeans could be killed.
As for the eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell, they are still more obscure. It has been suggested that they had actually taken work on Pilate’s hated aqueducts. If so, any money they earned was due to God and should have been voluntarily handed over, because it had already been stolen from the temple; and it may well be that popular talk had declared that the tower had fallen on them because of the work they had consented to do.
Jesus dismissed the idea that accidents or human cruelties were God’s judgment on especially bad sinners. Neither the Galileans or the workers should be blamed for their calamities. Whether a person is killed in a tragic accident or miraculously survives is not a measure of righteousness. Think of the recent hot air balloon accident in Egypt. Jesus did not explain why some live and some die tragically; instead he pointed to everyone’s need for repentance. No matter how it occurs, death is not the end. Jesus
promises that those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.
THE GOSPEL OF ANOTHER CHANCE AND THE THREAT OF THE LAST CHANCE
Here is a parable lit by grace and packed with warnings.
(i) The fig-tree occupied a specially favoured position. It was not unusual to see fig-trees, thorn-trees and apple-trees in vineyards. In general, the soil was so shallow and poor that trees were grown wherever there was soil to grow them; but this fig-tree had a more than average chance; and it had not proved worthy of it. Repeatedly, directly and by implication, Jesus reminded men and women that they would be judged according to the opportunities they had. Someone once said, “We have the powers of gods and we use them like irresponsible schoolboys.” Never was a generation entrusted with so much as ours and, therefore, never was a generation so answerable to God. (think of global warming).
(ii) The parable teaches that uselessness invites disaster. It has been claimed that the whole process of evolution in this world is to become better adapted to survive and produce useful things, and that which is
useful will go on from strength to strength, while what is useless will be eliminated. The most searching question we can be asked is, “Of what use were/are you in this world?”
(iii) Further, the parable teaches that nothing which only takes out can survive. The fig-tree was drawing strength and sustenance from the soil; and in return was producing nothing. That was precisely its problem. In the last analysis, there are two kinds of people in this world–those who take out more than they put in, and those who put in more than they take out.
In one sense we are all in debt to life. We came into it at the peril of someone else’s life; and we would never have survived without the care of those who loved us. We have inherited a Christian civilisation and a freedom which we did not create. There is laid on us the duty of handing things on better than we found them.
Abraham Lincoln said “Die when I may, I want it said of me that I plucked a weed and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow.” Once a student was being shown bacteria under the microscope. He could actually see one generation of these microscopic living things being born and dying and another being born to take its place. He saw, as he
had never seen before, how one generation succeeds another. “After what I have seen,” he said, “I pledge myself never to be a weak link.”
If we take that pledge we will fulfil the obligation of putting into life at least as much as we take out.
(iv) The parable tells us of the gospel of the second chance. A fig-tree normally takes three years to reach maturity. If it is not fruiting by that time it is not likely to fruit at all. But this fig-tree was given another chance.
It is always Jesus’ way to give a man chance after chance. Peter and Mark and Paul would all gladly have witnessed to that. God is infinitely kind to the man/woman who falls and rises again.
(v) But the parable also makes it quite clear that there is a final chance. If we refuse chance after chance, if God’s appeal and challenge comes again and again in vain, the day finally comes, not when God has shut us out, but when we by deliberate choice have shut ourselves out.
May we save ourselves from that!