There were some present at that very time who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
And He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
The outcries begin almost as soon as we can speak. Hang around any playground in any land and you'll hear them soon enough. "Justice! I want justice!" Now at that early stage, the protests may have a more ordinary ring. You may hear the shouted declaration, "It was my turn and he grabbed it. Make him give it back!" Or a plaintive, "She broke it, and it was new." Though they may seem but pediatric pleas, those cries for justice are fundamentally the same as all others. We have a deep, life-long yearning for things to be set right, a need to know that good will prevail and evil will be punished. The plotlines of countless epics depend on that longing.
The fellows who accosted Jesus with their made-up tale of treachery were also depending on it. They intended for the Rabbi to react boldly in righteous indignation, to cry out for justice, to call for the overthrow of Rome. But Jesus stunned them, and held up a spiritual mirror to their souls. He made them consider if justice was really what they wanted after all. The hatred and deceit that had fueled their ploy was evidence of judgment warranted, not justice deserved. He reminded them that justice, in fact, requires judgment. No one can bear the scrutiny of their own motives and jealousies and wickedness. Jesus made plain, again, that there is no one righteous, not even one.
Then He told them a story. And He invited them to consider their desperate need for mercy. With His winsome agrarian parable, Jesus described the breathtaking patience of God, shown even to those who hate Him. But the story also makes clear that God's patience is not a fool's game. He makes clear that there is both: judgment and mercy. God's patience is infinite, but not endless. Will the fig tree actually make figs?
This overheard conversation happened as Jesus was on His slow, unwavering journey to the only place in history where perfect justice and perfect mercy are met together. At the cross, the Lord would hang crucified, unjustly captured, tried, and executed. All of the righteous judgment of God against your sinful rebellion and mine would be meted out on the Son of His love. And in that very same moment, God's great mercy is poured over the souls of those whom He gave to that Son before the foundation of the world. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7).