Jesus’ listeners often called out questions or comments to Jesus. When He asked them: “You can discern the weather by the face of the sky, but how is it you do not discern the signs of the times?” (Luke 12:56). They told Him the current news. Pilate had killed Galileans in the Temple as they offered sacrifices (Luke 13:1). The crowd thought the Galileans must have been great sinners, but Jesus said: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than other Galileans, because they suffered these things? I tell you, No; but, unless you repent, some day you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Then Jesus noted another current news story, eighteen people who had died when a tower in Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:4). Jesus made it clear that those who suffer accidental or violent deaths are no greater sinners than others because all of us are guilty and under the penalty of death. Jesus rejects the idea that when we suffer we are reaping the results of our sins.
So He tells a parable about God’s grace for sinners: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none” (Luke 13:6). The vineyard owner wanted to cut down the tree, but his vineyard keeper asked for one more year. Jesus’ parable shows both God’s grace and the limits of His grace. If the tree was still unfruitful next year, the owner agreed to let the vineyard keeper cut it down (Luke 13:9). Does your life bear the fruit of repentance? Jesus asks us to repent, to ask Him for forgiveness and healing from our sins.
After the vineyard parable, Luke records one of Jesus’ most dramatic miracles. While teaching in a synagogue on Sabbath, Jesus noticed a woman who for eighteen years had been so bent over that she could not raise herself up (Luke 13:11). After saying, “woman, you are free from your infirmity,” Jesus laid His hands on her and “immediately she was made straight and glorified God” (Luke 13:13).
The ruler of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had “worked” on Sabbath. How could he ignore the woman’s miraculous healing and accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath? He and other Jewish leaders did not realize that God prohibited normal work on Sabbath, as a symbol of peace and freedom from sin, and experience more deeply God’s love. In healing the woman of her infirmity, Jesus also showed that the Sabbath is a symbol of having been set free from the control of Satan.
The Jewish leaders were actually the ones breaking the Sabbath because their Sabbath “rest” was something they were doing in order to earn their salvation. Real Sabbath rest comes when we rest on the Sabbath and acknowledge anew God’s free gift of salvation to us.
Douglas Jacobs, D.Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University