This meditation was shared last week, on Election Day.
by John Forman
Current Master of Divinity Student
Seattle University, School of Theology and Ministry
It’s Election Day in America. And for some reason, this year in particular, the atmosphere is filled with self-righteous anger. Not just Fox News and blast radio, or in the candidates advertising and debates. It seems to be the character of our national discourse. The limping economy is his fault. Our involvement in Afghanistan is her fault. Those people want to bring harm to our children. It’s exasperating and it’s divisive and it’s troublesome. It’s just not new.
Jesus is hearing the same kind of grumbling about the Pilate and the Romans. “They’ve not only killed our people like lambs at the slaughter,” the people are saying, “they’ve killed them right alongside the sacrificial animals.” They expect him to take up this injustice as a cause, perhaps even to lead them in revolution. Jesus doesn’t exonerate or excuse the behavior they are upset about, but instead turns their righteous anger on its head and hands it back to the crowd: “Unless you change your ways, you’ll come to the same end.” Then he adds the equivalent of something like “Do you think that the people killed by Sandy last week were more guilty than other people?” His challenge, then, may be this: Stop denying death without denying that there are bad actors and terrible circumstances in the world. The question stands before us today: can we live and act without being enslaved by or defined by that which opposes us, or by our fears or by death…death that Luke’s Christ was about to conquer on the cross?
As is frequently the case, Jesus offers a revolutionary and more life-affirming option in a parable: A fig tree planted in a vineyard. That means it’s a tree that has been planted intentionally, not by accident. It is a tree that has, over the three years it takes for a fig to mature, lived in fertile soil, with reliable and plentiful water, and a gardener’s knowledgeable support. The owner has come to see that the tree is cut down because it is not producing. But the gardener, who we can recognize as Jesus, asks that the tree be spared because he is willing to provide that which is needed to stimulate a fruitful response from the tree. It’s interesting that the same word used here, meaning “let it be,” is one Jesus speaks from the cross, meaning “forgive.”
It’s not our relative merit or the work we do, but the rubric of forgiveness that we live under, just like the fig tree. It is the blood of Christ worked into our roots while we were still sinners that can inspire us to change our focus from all that is wrong with others, to focus on changing our own ways—a metanoia of heart, mind and soul. In this way, we consent to blossom and allow God to bring to fruition that which is inherent within each of us. Ours is not to change the world…ours is to change ourselves in the section of God’s vineyard where we have been planted so that God can bring life, love and redemption to a world clearly aching for something better. So I wonder—on this day when our self-righteousness may be at a peak—where is the master gardener spreading experiences around you and me of rich, life-giving manure…the holy gift of humility? And how will we choose to respond today? It’s a choice of life or death.