Have you ever wondered what God is thinking?
What on earth was God thinking creating mosquitos?
What is God doing letting Tornado’s and crazy weather destroy homes and towns in Queensland?
What is God doing about the state of our world today when people of extreme political perspectives think they can storm into places of worship and kill people at prayer?
How does God we we proclaim as the source of Love, help us comprehend events driven by hate?
Then we hear in the book of Isaiah: "For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, says God. For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." - Isaiah 55:8-9
I wonder what God’s thoughts are – thoughts that reside in a high place, a broad space a wide and open way that leads us beyond worrying about mosquitoes…a different kind of participation than controlling the weather…a more complex engagement with humanity than being able to cause or prevent calamity.
Human beings aching with longing – wondering ‘how can this be?’
It puts me in mind of the passage in Luke's gospel chapter 13"1-19 when we hear about Jesus spending time with a group of people minds who wanted to make sense of the things happening in their lives and communities. They wanted to know what God thought about the stuff happening in their context. Someone asks Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
We don’t really know what was going on at that time, but we do know that Pilate was a tyrant. Perhaps he needed some extra cash to finance one of his public works project and decided to get the funds from the Jewish temple treasury. In Galilee, a group of people were worshipping in the way their tradition invited. They were making sacrifices in their temple. Pilate ordered the solders to break in and the solders ended up massacring a whole group of worshippers!! Their blood was mingled with the blood of the sacrifices.
Well Jesus, what do you think of that?
What do you reckon God thinks about that?
Do you think those Galileans were somehow worse sinners and were being punished by God?”
With the events of Christchurch ripe in our minds, we can’t help but draw a parallel. This time another soldier of tyrannical ideals storms into a place of worship massacring a group of people at prayer. 51 people lost their lives and a larger number are wounded in hospital. He Jesus what do you think of that. Are those Muslims being punished for their sins? Jesus was being asked a political question disguised as a theological question.
He was being asked God’s thoughts on this political issue.
Should we stop immigration from Muslim countries into this country?
He could have answered saying something condemning extremist, but someone might have thrown an egg at him!
In his context, he’d have been seen to allied himself with the Zealots who were a radical anti-Roman political movement and that would have made him an enemy of the state But Jesus doesn’t fall for that trick.
Then the next person asks Jesus another question in a similar vain. Another disaster story. The Siloanm Tower Collapsed and kills eighteen people. It was a freak accident. Well, did God think the people in that building crew were leading an unusually sinful life and that God caused the tower to fall? What does God think about human politics? What are God’s thoughts about calamities?
This week we might want to ask the same kinds of questions about what happened in Christchurch. When a right wing extremist decides to record himself storming a place of worship and methodically shooting people. Then going to another place of worship and shooting another group simultaneously streaming the footage of the carnage on the world wide web for all to see. Were those worshipping Muslim sinners?
What a crazy question.
Who would ask such a questions?
It makes me feel sick even to think about that question in relation to this situation.
Who would ask this kind of question?
These are the kind of questions that seem to be coming from the extremist group trying to justify the actions. They are political not theological questions. These questions are tricks.
Does God think people are sinners who are murdered by a white supremisist with a gun and a film camera streaming his violence for all to see?
The question seems to make Jesus sick too when he responds:
‘No, I tell you’; says Jesus … can you hear the frustration in his tone of voice? ‘but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
Here in Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus talking with a group of people who seem to be trying to trick.
What does God think about the Christchurch massacre?
What does God think about the floods in Queensland?
Are the people who died being punished?
Who are these people Jesus is talking to?
Where do their questions come from?
I wonder if Jesus is speaking directly to the people who think that there is some kind of justification in violence. People who want to manipulate ideas about God into supporting their views. Jesus has to be careful – and he tells a story.
You know there was this vineyard which, like lots of vineyards, had a fig tree in it. The problem was that the fig tree did not bear any fruit. For three years the landowner waited to get some fruit from the tree, but there was nothing. So he told the farmer to cut down the tree... a pretty reasonable request, seeing that water and space were precious. But the farmer pleaded with the landowner. One more year he said. I’ll put some manure around the tree and tend to it and then see what happens. If it doesn’t bear fruit after that you can cut it down.
Why does Jesus respond to questions about God’s view of sensless killing with this story about the fig tree in the vineyard?
There are lots of stories in the bible which use the image of a vineyard.
In Isaiah 5:7 “For the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting...”
Like with the fig tree in our story, things don’t always go well in God’s vineyard.
Joel laments: “the vine withers and the fig tree droops”.
As part of a conversation about local politics and natural disasters, Jesus tells this story about the fig tree in the vineyard. It’s clear isn’t it. Jesus is talking in symbols again: The vineyard is the nation of Israel, the people of God, the country of New Zealand, the state of Victoria, the church here in Canterbury. The vineyard is the Habitat of our living.
Just as the local newspapers report, there are parts of the vineyard which are not bearing fruit: this fig tree, people being exploited, the government is corrupt. A complex society. People have all sorts of opinions.
Should we race out and cut down our society?
No!! says the Jesus story!! No, let’s put some manure around our trees, let’s dig around them and give them one more year. Let’s give them time.
The farmer is pleading for time, and in this story we are invited to listen in on a debate between different ways we imaginge God to be.
It might even be that we are listening to hear the inner struggle within God’s own very being.
The owner of the vineyard and the gardener… The struggle between divine judgment and divine mercy.
Our God knows about paradox.
Our God knows about ambiguity. Our God wants us to be a nation without barren place, a church which bears much fruit and people live life in all its fullness.
The parable of the fig tree is about getting a second chance. The fig tree has failed its purpose. For three years, it has produced no fruit. But, thanks to the pleading of the gardener, it gets another chance. It seems to me that countries like New Zealand are giving refugees a second chance. As a global vineyard, we must not cut down and discard a group of people whose lives have been torn apart and have been unable to bear fruit, but give them time and space and nurture. A place to plant themselves and be given opportunity to grow.
I think at this point it’s helpful to be reminded of the words spoken the the gardens outside Al Noor mosque by imam Gamal Fouda this week at the memorial service for the massacare victims:
'Today, from the same place, I look out and I see the love and compassion in the eyes of thousands of fellow New Zealanders and human beings from across the globe that fill the hearts of millions more who are not with us physically, but in spirit.
This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology that has torn the world apart. But instead, we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable and that the world can see in us an example of love and unity. We are determined to love one another and to support each other. This evil ideology of white supremacy did not strike us first, yet it has struck us hardest. The number of people killed is not extraordinary but the solidarity in New Zealand is extraordinary. To the families of the victims, your loved ones did not die in vain. Their blood has watered the seeds of hope. Through them, the world will see the beauty of Islam and the beauty of our unity. Do not say of those who have been killed in the way of Allah that they are dead. They are alive! Rejoicing with their Lord. They were the best of us, taken from us on the best of days, in the best of places, and performing the best of actions. They are not just martyrs of Islam, but they are martyrs of this nation, New Zealand Our loss of you is a gain to New Zealand's unity and strength. Your departure is an awaking not just for our nation, but for all humanity'
What extordinary words of Grace… I find myself turning to Isaiah for comfort and consolation: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”