Third Sunday in Lent – Series C 

We often think of authority and power as synonymous, and that is reasonable and true. But gracious authority is actually a stronger sort of authority than the authority of the powerful. Putin will not be gracious to Ukraine because he does not have the power to do so. His grip on power is weak and tenuous, hence he must be cruel and authoritarian. Were he secure, he could be gracious to the people of Ukraine. He is not. Jesus’ authority is the authority of the one who does not need to control, does not need to force. It is far stronger.

This passage seems like an odd choice, but it is genius if you read it anew. Jesus is asked a question which has bedeviled people for millennia – the problem of evil. If God is so good, why do bad things happen? Is God not able to stop them? Does God want the bad things to happen? Jesus has two harsh and one sweet thing to say. First, he says that it is worse than we imagine. The real question is not why bad things happen to some folks and not others, the real question is why we are not all destroyed, right now. We deserve it. Then, he brings in the little parable. The master has expectations of the fig tree. The tree is not meeting expectation. The master, within his rights, orders the tree to be destroyed. God’s patience with sin and our rebellion is not inexhaustible, or at least it comes to an end. God has a time frame for this. The current state of things cannot go on. It won’t go on. But then there is something sweet as well. The gardener pleads for more time, brings on the fertilizer and the care. God has every right to destroy us all, but Jesus pleads our case and through his gracious death and resurrection has won for us the forgiveness of our sins. Christ wields another sort of authority which does not look like the authority which we are familiar with. It is the authority of the probate judge who dispenses the inheritance to the heirs, it is the authority of the gift giver. The servant wields no power, and the master relinquishes no right to judge, but the tree lives because the servant does what he says. Instead of demanding fruit, he feeds the tree.

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