Summary: This sermon on re-finding our place in the vineyard is set to be publshed in the Adventist Review on a future date.
The greatest stress I ever faced in my “career” as a student was standing in a line on the polished gym floor with my classmates. Opposite the line were my two most athletically gifted peers chosen by Coach to select the kickball teams. The wait was agonizing as each “team captain” analyzed each of the remaining classmates for their speed, agility, and ability to wallop the kick-ball into the bleachers. As each name was called and one more student left the line to join the crowd behind one of the captains, I found myself remaining, one of the non-chosen. It felt like catching a line drive kickball right in the gut. It was us verses them.
One autumn, as I returned to school, and that gym, I realized an incredible transition had taken place. I was no longer a kicker of singles in the game of kickball. Over a short summer break, I had become a homerun slammer. The dreaded wait in line wasn’t as long anymore as I found my name one of the first chosen each game.
It’s funny; my kickball ability was not the only thing transformed. Those gut-wrenching feelings at being left unwanted were replaced by feelings of superiority and cockiness toward those “geeks” standing in the line I used to be in. My pain was replaced by reveling in being one of “the chosen”. The us verses them mentality still existed, but the “us’s” and the “them’s” had changed places
I’m sure I’m not the only one with a similar experience. Sure, it may not have been kickball, but all of us know what it is like to be either one of the chosen, or one of the “un-chosen”.
The Jewish people of Jesus’ day knew what it felt like to be God’s chosen people, to be the “elect” of God, to be the “us” group of the world. They were set aside by God as His People, His nation. Imagine their surprise to hear Jesus’ parable the day He told them that the “us’s” were about to become the “them’s”.
Jesus had just been preaching to a large crowd about impending judgment and the nation’s inability to notice the signs that judgment was near (Luke 12:54-59). Right in the middle of this sermon on imminent judgment, Christ was asked a very odd question. “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 then all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish (Luke 13:1). Or those eighteen who died when the tower of 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.”
As Jesus told the crowd of the judgment coming, the people were still thinking “us” verses “them.” Those in the crowd couldn’t help but think that the judgment Jesus preached about was for them, the other people, not us. After all, Galilee was not the pride of Israel. It was full of “mixed” people, Jew and Gentile. To some in the crowd, when Jesus spoke of coming judgment, they heard judgment for the others, not themselves.
That is when Jesus decided to “shatter their world” and introduce a new paradigm. One of the most effective ways Jesus subverted the conventional values was to “parable a parable.”
(Luke 13:6-8) “Then He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted 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 of 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.”
A simple story of a fig tree in crisis. But, why was that fig tree in a vineyard. Didn’t it look a little out of place surrounded by all of those grapes? It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for fig trees to be planted in vineyards. Fig trees work perfectly in those rocky bear patches of ground that is good for nothing else. Besides, there isn’t anything better to hold up a trellis than a sturdy old fig tree. In some vineyards, the grape vines were allowed to wind themselves up fig trees. It had even been said that the “choicest wines come from grapes that grow at the top of fig trees.”