Luke 13: 1-9
“Repent, or Perish?”
I want to start with something funny. I heard about this 95-year-old lady who lived in a nursing home and had a visit from one of her fellow church members. The visitor asked, “How are you feeling, Mary?” The old lady said, “Oh, I’m just worried sick!” The visitor said, “What are you worried about, dear? You look like you’re in good health. They are taking care of you, aren’t they?” The old lady said, “Yes, they are taking very good care of me.” The visitor asked her, “Are you in any pain?” The old lady said, “No, I have never had a pain in my life.” The visitor asked her again, “Well, what are you worried about?” The lady leaned back in her rocking chair and slowly explained her main worry. “Every close friend I ever had has already died and gone on to heaven. I’m afraid they’re all wondering where I went.”
What are you most concerned about? Somehow, we spend valuable time on useless thought and worry. Useless worry means that there is nothing we can do to change the situation even if we worry about it all day and night. I hope that you don’t spend your precious time on useless worries. The Disciple Peter says, “Cast all your anxieties on him [the Lord] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Today, I want to talk about “repent, or perish?” It is the Third Sunday in Lent. How have you been doing during Lent? Has it been going as you planned, such as your self-control or self-promise? Don’t regret it if you failed. It is not late yet. You can start it again now. There are two kinds of people who fail or made a mistake in their plan. One is those who regret it; the other is those who repent it. The word “regret” implies looking back, putting yourself down, giving up, being discouraged, frustrated with failure, and so on. On the other hand, the word “repent” implies starting again in a new way, turning it around 180 degrees to a new challenge, looking forward, and so on. In other words, “repent” means that you turn around 180 degree from how you are going. It means that you may come back to God when you’ve been running away. Again, Lent encourages us to come closer to God in a more profound way. Which one do you prefer, “regret,” or “repent”?
We live in a world of abundant information. We can hear or watch the global news at home, on the street, at a park, at a cafe, and everywhere. Even though we don’t read newspapers or books, we may see what’s going on worldwide by checking our smartphones. We live in a world where it is easy to get lots of information. However, the world makes us confused and messed up trying to determine what is right or wrong. Somehow, even though we don’t know what’s happening with our family members, we may understand what’s happening in Ukraine, Russia, Africa, and even Korea. We don’t know when and where it started, but bad news and wrong information comes and goes like a boomerang, easily and fast, and then they hurt one another with misunderstanding. The Disciple John says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Don’t trust all information. If you get information about faith, the church, denomination, and conference, please confirm it with your leaders, and pray to God to distinguish between right and wrong before you make a decision. Wrong information (gossip) runs faster than correct information (the truth) in today’s world, or in the past.
Terrible news went around Galilee, Jesus’ hometown as well. In today’s scripture, we will read a strange verse, “At that very time there was some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” People ran to Jesus to inform him in a hurry what was going on in Galilean and interrupted at that very time when Jesus was preaching. Something happened on Galilean in an urgent case, and people notified Jesus, the teacher of Galileans. The name Pilate might be familiar to us. Yes, it is him, whom we may say, “Jesus suffered under the Pontius Pilate’s trial, and died on the cross” in The Apostles’ Creed. He was the governor of the Roman province of Judaea at that time. Pilate killed Galileans who were going to the Jerusalem Temple to worship God. What “Galilean’s blood was mingled with their sacrifices” means that he killed people with their sacrifices for worship beastly, and blood of the people and the blood of the animals’ that were sacrificed were mingled. The intention of the people informing Jesus of this information might be to question “How did Pilate kill the people who were going for worship? It is not a time to preach. Let’s go and destroy the Roman leaders!” Or, some intended to show Jesus, “why people who worship God should be killed.”
However, Jesus’ reaction was different unexpectedly. Jesus rather asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Jesus, suddenly, brought up what it means to “repent.” It happened but not because of it. However, the matter is “repentance” as Jesus said, “unless you repent, you will all perish.” It came out of the blue. However, Jesus was just continuing his preaching. His major theme of the sermon was “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Also, John the Baptist proclaimed, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Jesus intended to invite people closer to the kingdom of God through repentance.
Here is more terrible news. Jesus says, “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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” We may assume there was a disaster in which the collapse of the tower killed eighteen people. Jesus emphasized that it might happen in our life, but it is not because you did something wrong. It is not because you have sinned if you have children who break away or if you have a child with an incurable illness. The matter is, you have to have the fruit of repentance. Here is Jesus’ teaching: Jesus told a parable story of a fig tree with no fruit on it. “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘see here! I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree for three years, and still, I found none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.” (13:6-9).
A fig tree in the vineyard is, perhaps, what we are. In this Lenten season, God may give us another chance to have the fruit of repentance. We are curious what the fruit of repentance is. We can find it in the Gospel of Luke 3:9-11. John the Baptist says, ‘Repent, the ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” And people asked, “What should we do then?” John the Baptist answered them clearly, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” The fruit of repentance is to practice the love of God and the love of our neighbors by acts. In today’s scripture, verse 9 says, “if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” Nobody knows what’s going on in the next year. It is our choice whether to “repent” or “perish.” Which one do you prefer? Thank be to God. Amen!