INI + AMEN.
(1. Oops!: We all have bad days.)
Waking up on the wrong side of the bed. A bad hair day. A little grumpy. Stubbed your toe. Couldn’t sleep. Maybe it’s rainy, cold, snowy, windy! A little under the weather. The daily grind. Long, longer, and longest days at work. Maybe a head cold, a headache! No matter the cause we’ve all had bad days. Days we wish would be over sooner rather than later.
But here’s the thing: all this is child’s play compared to what’s in our text. Yes, we can all have a bad day, maybe a bad couple days, a stressful week, deadlines, due dates, and duties piling up. But what meets us in our Gospel text is something completely different. It’s worse than just a bad day! It’s tragedy. That’s what Jesus is told about, what He talks about. They told Jesus “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Jesus ups the ante and talks about the tower of Siloam that fell over and crushed eighteen people to death. People going to worship at the temple who are killed—their spilled blood mixing with their sacrifices’ blood. A tower crushing people. Pretty tragic.
(2. Ugh!: There’s also tragic days.)
Typhoons. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. Plane crashes. Tsunamis. Mass shootings, even in Hesston, Kansas! Wars and rumors of wars from around the globe. Terrorism. The world is chock full of tragedy. Just because some of it’s commonplace, or becoming commonplace, doesn’t mean it’s any less tragic and horrific.
But it’s not just out in the world, is it? There’s tragedy in our lives as well. From a doctor’s visit—a diagnosis for you or for someone you love that turns your world upside down. Cancer. Unexpected death. Joy and hope turned to sadness. Tragedy comes home to roost even in the homes of Christians.
Why tragedy for some? For me? Cure, life, blessing for others? Why those Galileans, Jesus? Why not the Judeans? Why those eighteen, Jesus? Why not someone else? What goes around comes around? Is that it? That’s what we think, too. I’ve done something. They did something. Their house burned down, they weren’t cured because of something they did or didn’t do. I was cured, my life spared because of something I did, because God loves me.
What goes around comes around. That’s how we and the world think things work. Jesus wants you to repent of all that. That’s what it’s all about. Repentance. When our trust in ourselves, our own strength, our own abilities gets undercut, destroyed, obliterated—that’s what tragedy does—we’re called to turn to our heavenly Father. Jesus calls us to repent. If you’re cured, repent. If it’s terminal, repent. Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you’ll all perish in a similar way.” Yes, repent or face a far worse fate. As the owner said to his gardener “cut the fruitless tree down.” Cast the tree out of the vineyard. Those with trust in themselves and what they can do will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(3. Aha!: Jesus overcomes all tragedy.)
There is hope for you, dear Christian. Don’t trust in the blessings the Lord gives in this life—being cured, your life preserved. Don’t even trust your own repentance! There’s no need to. Jesus has already overcome all tragedy. Through His life He bore “our sicknesses and carried our sorrows.” And still more tragedy, God Himself was condemned, murdered. Tragedy upon tragedy, God the Son became sin, and the greatest sinner. He bore our “karma mindset” in His own body on the tree. The greatest tragedy is seen when God the Son, the one in whom the Father was eternally and forever pleased, was forsaken, cast away by His Father. Yet in that tragedy, all tragedy is undone. In His death all tragedy is only child’s play. It’s not only in Jesus’ death, but His resurrection. Tragedy is undone with His empty tomb. Now, no matter what happens, no matter the tragedy, it must give way. Weeping may endure for this life, but Jesus’ promise for the life to come is no more sorrow, weeping, crying, or sin. Death will be destroyed. It can’t have the final say. It already hasn’t! Christ is risen. All the burdens and tragedies of life give way in the light of Christ Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. These burdens are light compared to what Christ will give you on the last day. As Paul says, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
So what of all this repentance stuff? Look at what Christ says in our text, the parable He tells. There’s a gardener who will tend the tree, fertilize it, and help it grow. This is the dead and risen Gardner, Jesus. This Jesus is at work for you.
(4. Whee!:) JESUS IS TENDING YOU TO BRING ABOUT NOT ONLY REPENTANCE BUT ALSO FAITH IN HIM.
(5. Yeah!:) Jesus is at work not only in the good times, but especially in the tragic times.
This is seen in His cross. That’s pretty tragic—God crucified, dead. Yet it is the greatest victory and blessing for all, and especially for you, dear Christian. One drop of that blood saves from death. His empty tomb is victory over all tragedy and death. Death will be undone, suffering ended. Not in this life. But one day, and that day will certainly come. It has to! Jesus is risen from the dead. The Crucified one is alive! You will rise in Him. Turn to Him who has already died and risen for you.
Yes, trust in the Jesus who is working for you and on you, just like that gardener on that tree. He’s at work with His Word and His gifts. He’s enlivened you, tying you to His death and resurrection in Baptism. This water gives you life just as water does plants. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” We do live with Him and He in us, as Paul says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for Me.” He prunes us and tends the ground with His Word. He fertilizes us with His very self—His body and blood. The body that was cursed and now lives, the blood once shed is given us. He draws us to Himself in these ways. Trust Him who already has done it all and continues to do all this for you, dear Christian.
There is tragedy in the world, but Christ has overcome it. We will overcome it, but only in Jesus. Only in Jesus will we rise again to eternal life. Only because of Jesus will tragedy, all death, despair, gloom and doom be cast into the lake of fire forever. Only in Him do you pass over that to drink of the river of water of life and partake of the tree of life. Only in Jesus.
Tragedy may come. But Christ is greater than tragedy. His tragic death, His magnificent resurrection show that it’s just an empty show. Trust Christ, dear Christian. Repent. Christ has already done it all for you. He continues to work in and for you. His medicine of immortality, His body and blood that He gives you, are Him doing exactly that.
INI + AMEN.