Byron Presbyterian Church
Bible Study – February 23 2016 – 7PM – at the church – lead by Rev. Jim Renfrew
- Welcome and Prayer
What’s your favorite fruit? Describe having a bite when it’s perfect; perfect moment, perfect place, perfect taste. Mmmmm.
- Jesus, on Fig Trees
Jesus talks about Fig Trees in three of the four gospels. Fig trees must have been common where he lived. I cannot think of any other fruit that he mentions in any of his stories. The primary text for tonight is Luke 13:1-9. You will notice that verses 1-5 serve as an introduction to the parable that follows in verses 6-9. Jesus offers another parable involving a fig tree in chapter 21, and the parallaels to that in Matthew and Mark are also shown.
Luke 13:1-9 is not offered as an exact or similar parable in Matthew and Mark, but Luke’s parable in chapter 21 is similarly presented in Matthew and Mark.
It is also interesting to see that there is a story about good and bad figs in Jeremiah 24. I think it very likely that Jeremiah’s prophecy was well-known to Jesus. Do you see a connection between what Jeremiah and Jesus say?
Do you see any translation differences between the New Revised Standard Version of Luke 13 shown below and the version you brought with you this evening?
(a) Luke 13:1-9
1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”
(b) Luke 21:29-33
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
(c) Matthew 21:18-22
18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
(d) and (e) Matthew 24:32-35 (and the exact same in Mark 13:2831)
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
(f) Mark 11:12-14, 20-24
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
25“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
(g) Jeremiah 24:1-10
1 The LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD. This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon. 2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. 3 And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”
4 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5 Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6 I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
8 But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt. 9 I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth–a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. 10 And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.
- Focus on Luke 13
The entry point to the story is the description of two things that everyone was talking about – Pilate murdered a group of Galilean pilgrims at the Jerusalem temple, and a tower collapsed in a Jerusalem
neighborhood killing eighteen people. We could think of tragic events from our own time – a house that went up in flames killing the family inside, or a hurricane impacting a coastal city with great destruction and loss of life. What question about these events was Jesus answering? Are such tragedies signs of God’s judgments, or do they represent something else?
Sidebar: What are the characteristics of fig trees? What is their size? How much fruit do they bear? How are they planted, nurtured, cultivates and harvested?
OK, so there’s a fig tree that hasn’t been producing. What to do? Cut it down? No, give it special attention for a full year to see if it will bear fruit. If not, then cut it down!
So what is Jesus saying, what’s his point? Here are some possible explanations.
(1) Jesus loved giving gardening tips. Here’s how to get a poorly-producing fig tree to flourish!
(2) There is a secret meaning in this story – only dedicated followers of Jesus get it.
(3) It’s an allegory, so the key to understanding it is to parallel the features of the story with something else. One common view is that Jesus is referring to Israel, the Temple, the priests or the Pharisees when he talks about the fig tree. Or is it something else? If an allegory, what do you match with the owner, the worker, the soil and the tree?
(4) The story is “parabolic” in nature, not an allegory; it is meant to turn you and your world on your head. It’s meant to alarm you, shock you, or surprise you – you think you’ve got it all figured out, but maybe you don’t have a clue! In this “churn” God prepares you to learn something new and here it is!
(5) It’s all about anxiety and hope. Read the parable as if YOU are the fig tree. Your first feeling is fear, God is fed up with you and will chop you up into mulch. The second feeling is amazement – just when you thought you were doomed, God is going to give you another chance! This is all about hope!
(6) It’s apocalyptic. It’s not just about you, it’s about our religious community, it’s about our culture, it’s about our world. God is fully prepared to turn the whole forest of trees into kindling, and it could happen five minutes from now. This is your last chance to get it right! Don’t mess up! (Follow-up question: How many chances do we get?) Does this description of God who is ready to uproot you and throw you on the compost heap align with your understanding of God?
- Luke 13:1-9 as a Lenten Theme
This text is included in the Lenten cycle of readings for Year Three. What Lenten themes do you find as you read it?
- Luke 13:1-9 as an Intersection
Does this reading intersect with your life? In what ways? Do you find this text to be a challenge or a comfort? Does this text draw you in, does it push you away, or does it cause you to hold back? Does it leave you more confused than when we started to discuss it? Are things clearer to you now?
Reality check. Can you put your understanding of this text in a sentence or two that would be meaningful to young children? Does it have a good message for teenagers? Is this a text you would share to a “beginner” Christian, or is it better for more “mature” Christians? Are YOU a beginner or a mature Christian?
- And Anything Else That Comes Up!
- Closing Prayer to Launch Us on the Next Stage of Our Adventure