Luke 13:1-9 - The test of producing good fruit or being destroyed

Updated: Mar 19

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At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He 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. Or 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."

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find 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.'"


This is the Gospel selection to be read aloud by a priest on the third Sunday in Lent, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will be preceded by an Old Testament reading from Exodus, where is written: “Then Yahweh said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” That will be followed by Psalm 63, which sings, “For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; my lips shall give you praise.” That will then lead to a selection for Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he warned: “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”

The point of this reading is fairly clear to me. The only confusion comes from the listing of specific events that historians are unclear on, as to when they happened. The historian Josephus did not record anything that says when (or if) these events happened. All that needs to be grasped from verses one through five is some Jews died, some by punishment thought to be unjust or inappropriate and some died by pure accident. All were Jews that died. Thus, the causes of their deaths were irrelevant to Jesus, because death comes to everyone; repentance prior to death is then the point Jesus would address in his parable.

There is some commentary about the focus put on “Galileans,” where this is believed to have been associated with an historical character named Judas of Galilee. He is said by Josephus to have been one of the founders of a “fourth sect” (other than the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) that led to the revolt that caused the Temple of Jerusalem to be destroyed. In 6 A.D. (or “CE”), he led a protest against the taxes in Judea proposed by Quirinius. Judas and his followers threatened Jews who paid a Roman tax, because God was the only ruler over Israel. That would certainly have led to some rebels being rounded up (Galilean followers of Judas) and executed, near or during the Passover festival, just to make a Roman point that God was not a very strong ruler that cared about tax money, like Rome and Caesar were.

If this was the event referred to in these verses in Luke’s Gospel, then this says the Jews harbored grudges long after the fact (roughly twenty years after). It is possible that Jesus was not in Galilee when that execution took place, having left for his travels east before that rebellion took place. This would mean he was told that it was this zealous sect that brought shame on the other Jews, because their “blood mingled with their sacrifices.” The embarrassment of some Galileans being killed during the time remembering the Passover being when Israelites were not killed by Yahweh would reflect on how God would have been less pleased with their festival’s outcome then. To bring up that old event as reason to confront Jesus would say that these Jews bringing up ‘ancient history’ were doing so because Jesus was seen in a similar light to them. It was a reminder to Jesus about what happens to those who threaten punishment to Jews who obey Rome. That suggestion says Jesus was bringing back old memories of zealots who had likewise said God is the only ruler of Israel.

If that is the case, then Jesus’ question about those long dead makes more sense, as it projects the wrongs of the past onto the wrongs of the present. Because Jesus was known as being from Nazareth, in Galilee, he was thought to be ‘messianic,’ therefore a rebellious leader. His being told of an old event, one relative to what the Romans do to rebels from Galilee, means they saw Jesus as being anti-Roman, more than pro-God. When he then asked in response, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” he was pointing out how many sins always go unpunished. The use of "worse sinners" implies all in Galilee were sinners, just not executed by Rome for their sins. Jesus, therefore, was not promoting rebellion against Rome, but compliance to the Laws that actually made Jews be true Israelites.

It is important to see that Jesus was much closer to the philosophy of the Essenes, than he was to the other sects. He was constantly being challenged by the Pharisees and Sadducees, because his views did not agree with the errors of logic they defended. It would be in the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem that the Passover Seder meal (Jesus’ last supper) would take place, with an empty room in pilgrim-packed Jerusalem being due to the Essenes not observing the Passover festival in Jerusalem. They held their festival around their temple built on Mount Carmel, only ten miles from Nazareth. It is quite possible that Judas of Galilee was an Essene priest who was against the Temple in Jerusalem supporting all Roman taxes. For that reason, Jesus would have been thought to secretly be an Essene (or a zealot), which was why this suggestion of Jewish blood “mingling with their sacrifices” is a threat posed to Jesus (as it certainly is somewhat prophetic).

After Jesus made his point by asking (in essence) a rhetorical question, his saying, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” From this statement it can be gathered that Jesus was speaking to other Galilean Jews, most likely around Capernaum, where Jesus lived when not on the road. After having made his name be known in Jerusalem, the ‘spies’ of the Temple were regularly dispatched to Galilean synagogues to gain reports of any possible threats to their firm control over the Jews in that region. To tell those who had just suggested to Jesus that he could end up dead if he kept rocking the boat of complacency; that they were sinners – no better no worse – like those they called out as sinners, Jesus next said without repentance “you all will perish as they did.”

In that, Luke wrote the Greek word “apoleisthe,” which is the second-person future form of the word “apollumi,” which has been translated as “you will perish.” The actual translation of “apollumi” is “to destroy, destroy utterly,” implying in usage, “I kill, destroy” or “I am perishing (the resultant death being viewed as certain).” (Strong’s) This must be seen as Jesus predicting Jews who are unrepentant will be destroyed, put to death, executed, killed, in the same manner the rebels were executed by Roman means; and, this means “perish” is not some ‘die in your sleep at peace with God’ natural prediction of mortality. The implication (which becomes clearer in the parable) is a higher authority than Pilate – a Roman governor in a conquered land – or Caesar in far away Rome. Without repentance to Yahweh, Yahweh will administer much more severe punishment than killing a few rebel before or during Passover for ‘shock value.’

To make that point stronger, Jesus then spoke about a reported incident where eighteen Jews died in an obvious accident, where “this tower this Siloam” seems to have collapsed or fallen in some way.

A model in a museum.

Again, historically speaking, there is nothing recorded about a tower accident near Siloam, where eighteen Jews were killed. The pool of Siloam is where Jesus healed the man born blind, as told in John’s Gospel (only). One can only assume that is the place being referenced, because Jesus did not mention a pool. Because David built walls around his city, it is possible that some earth tremor caused a tower along the western wall of the City of David, close to the pool of Siloam to become weakened. Perhaps the Romans were preparing some repairs to shore up the weakness, when it suddenly gave and collapsed, killing people who were close to that tower. Some might have actually been workers, but some could have been preparing to enter the pool. All that can be gathered from this statement by Jesus is it is a true event that was recognized. However, what could have been missed in the conversation is the meaning of the word “Siloam,” which is capitalized and thus has divinely elevated meaning.

The word “Siloam” is Greek, which pulls from the Hebrew “Shiloah” (from “shalah”), which means “to send out or let go.” According to the Wikipedia article on the Pool of Siloam, the following is stated: “The Pool of Siloam was the starting point for pilgrims who made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and where they ascended by foot to the inner court of the Temple Mount to bring their sacrificial offerings. The Pool of Siloam was used by pilgrims for ritual purification before visiting the Temple enclosure.” This would mean the pool was given a name that became a starting point, from which ritual sacrifices would be “sent out” or “let go” to Yahweh. Still, the divine elevation in the context of what Jesus said says the true sacrifice is a soul that has been “sent out” or “let go” back to Yahweh at death. This also ties in with the parable told next; and, the number of people killed becomes symbolism to consider.

In the Greek text written by Luke, there is a mark that connects the words “ten” and “eight.” The mark looks like this: “‿”. Without that mark connecting the two, ten would have to be considered meaningful, separate from the meaning of eight. The connecting mark still draws from two numbers, such that the number “ten” becomes symbolic of a level higher than normal life, which becomes a divine elevation of a soul. A "ten" becomes reflective of the difference between a common Gentile [a 1] and a Jew devoted to Mosaic Law [a 10]. To then connect “eight” to that elevated level, as “eighteen,” this becomes numerologically a “nine,” as “one plus eight,” where the “one” is a “ten” reduced by adding “1 + 0” to yield “one.” The number “nine” reflects “finalization,” which death normally represents. However, as “ten connected to eight,” the “eight” reflects death (going to a higher realm - 10) when one is still fit and able (8). That says they were not Jews who were at the pool seeking to be healed from some malady or deformity; but, instead, they were able-bodied Jews who were unlucky and at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Because they were most probably devout believers, they were still sinners [another story from metaphysics]; so, they died as sinners, not saints. Premature deaths are then lessons to teach the kiddies: You want to serve Yahweh now, because you never know what bad things can happen in the future, where plans on serving Yahweh not realized make one the same as a Gentile who does not serve any gods either.

When Jesus finished reminding those who had confronted him of the specifics of an accident that killed eighteen Jews, he then asked (rhetorically), “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” That question says all eighteen Jews who died were “offenders,” where the Greek word written is “opheiletai,” meaning “debtors,” implying “sinners.” Jesus said everyone “dwelling in Jerusalem” were “sinners” or “debtors” to Yahweh; so, Jesus asked those before him to “think” if death was how Yahweh punishes sinful people.

Just as he asked them to "think" about the "sinner" Galileans from past history were plucked from a larger group of "sinners," that selectivity means their deaths were manmade, not punishment from Yahweh. To then suggest they "think" the same manmade cause applies to accidents again supports the reasoning [something philosophies are known for] that everyone dies soon enough for Yahweh. He has no reason [that word again] to kill anyone because they sin. The whole point of being His chosen people [not Gentiles] was to be models of righteousness. So, Jesus wanted religious philosophers to "think" about the only reason Jews could "think" they were better than anyone else in the world.

Again, as a rhetorical question, Jesus answered his own question before anyone else could. He said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Here, Jesus has linked sinners in Galilee with the sinners of Jerusalem, which in effect says all Jews living in Galilee and Judea were sinners (for the most part), because none of them were zealous about their religion, to the extent that they admitted they were sinners and sought to live righteous lives, according to Mosaic Law. Certainly, that was what Jesus was promoting; but his rebellious focus was less about following a single leader to ruin (a leader who like all the other leaders failed to understand the ‘how to’ of the Law). It was promoting all individual Jews admit their shortcomings to Yahweh and fully submit to Him, so they can see what they were all doing wrong. To accomplish a righteous state of living, one needs to do less thinking and more doing what Yahweh says.

This then leads to the parable of the man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. That says the man is a landowner of means, who has a “gardener” who cares for the vineyard and this one fig tree. Right off the bat, one needs to realize the landowner is Yahweh. The “gardener” is His Son Adam (whose resurrected soul is in Jesus). Here, it is important to recall how Mary Magdalene mistook the soul of Jesus as “the gardener,” which needs to be seen as her seeing Jesus as his soul’s projection of originality [from the Garden of Eden], rather than the Jesus she knew from her marriage to him. Thus, it becomes important to see the Father has made the ‘executive decision’ to plant one fig tree (Adam-Jesus) in a world of grapevines (those who live righteously), where the name of the "vineyard" is Israel Acres.

Now, the symbolism of the “vineyard” is all of Israel, which was all of the twelve tribes being dispersed over all the regions. The one fig tree can then be symbolic for the kings and leaders of the Tabernacle, which began with David being planted in Jerusalem. In 1 Kings 4:25 is written: “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.” In Zechariah 3:10 is written: “In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares Yahweh of hosts.” In Micah 4:4 is written: “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for Yahweh of hosts has spoken.” All of this speaks of the duality of heart and soul, as having become the fruit of a Yahweh elohim. A true Israel is that.

When the vine part of a vineyard is then the religion, where everyone has been given the Law as one’s stake in the ground, and its fruit is the children born that are expected to follow the Law, the fig tree becomes the one that takes the position of a Patriarch, a Prophet, or a King that reflects the resurrected soul of Adam-Jesus as its fruit. Everything in the vineyard is then dependent on the one fig tree to produce good fruit and not be barren.

In the reality of fig trees, they usually do not begin producing figs until they have lived five seasons. Not all fig tree will produce figs. Once a fig tree begins to produce fruit, it will only do that for about thirty-five years, at which point it will become barren (from old age). Thus, the willingness of the “gardener” to tell the “landowner” that the full time allowance for fruit production to begin is still a season away says the fig tree will not be cut down prematurely. [There will be no executions or accidents forthcoming unnecessarily.] However, once the time has come for it to produce good fruit or be “let go” [“shalah”], it will be cut down if it does not produce. [Natural death leading to Judgment by the Father.] This becomes a parable about Yahweh sending His Son as the gardener, who knows a good way to promote good fruit production is to throw some dung around the roots of the leaders of the Jews [the truth of the 'decomposed' Law], to see if this next phase means they will produce good fruit.

The "dung" or "manure" [from "kopria"] has to be seen as the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, which has to become digested and processed so it becomes fertilizer for the soul. The producer of this "dung" is a Yahweh elohim, where the soul of Adam-Jesus has resurrected within the soul of a repentant sinner, so the truth of all Scripture is known [not reasoned]. This encounter where Jesus was spreading a load of truth upon a barren fig tree, that truth still had not been broken down (spiritually) and absorbed in the root system of inner knowledge [a Yahweh adonay]. The brains of human beings are like the leaves on the trees, which are useful half the year, but then absent the other half. The soul needs to know the truth of the Word, which is then seen in the metaphor of "dung." The leaders of the Jews were not absorbing their manure very well at all.

The ’moral’ of this story is not that Jesus is the fig tree. He is the gardener. The fig tree that was the Temple of Jerusalem would be cut down when the second revolt of the Jews against Rome led to that destruction. The new fig tree planted in its place would be the Apostles and Saints, who would produce the good fruit of Christianity. The problem those to whom Jesus spoke (and we never know who they were specifically) was they did way too much “thinking” and still could not figure out why they were placed into Yahweh’s vineyard. They were too concerned with old news of failed attempts to displace Rome; so, their minds were set on serving Rome (not Yahweh). All that thinking led them nowhere. They could not see the value coming to their souls from serving only Yahweh [repenting], over the values they could find from serving other masters.

As the Gospel selection to be read aloud on the third Sunday in Lent, the lesson should be the test of fruit production. All souls animating human flesh are bound to die. Some deaths will be by natural causes, some from punishments for crimes committed, and some will be because of accidents. Death is inevitable. The test is to commit one’s soul to Yahweh well before one’s soul is released from its flesh (whenever that will be), so eternal life is assured. For that to happen, the test is to serve Yahweh (as His Son reborn) for some significant number of fruitful years (perhaps thirty-five?). The dung that fertilizes one’s ability to produce good fruit is Scripture; but Scripture needs to become digested nutrients that are processed through divine insight. It is easier to reject the dung and do nothing productive. The test is to receive the dung as your chance to live. Otherwise, you will be destroyed.

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