By Paul Koch –
In ancient Roman mythology, Iustitia was the goddess of Justice. Introduced by Emperor Augustus, she became an enduring symbol of virtue and morality in the judicial system. Her image is still found today in courthouses, from small country locals to the Supreme Court of the United States. You’ve all seen her a time or two. She is the one who is blindfolded, holding in one hand scales and in the other a sword. The scales measure out justice and fairness; there is no imbalance to her ruling. The sword depicts her power and authority to punish the wrong and reward the righteous. The blindfold is to show her impartiality; she couldn’t be swayed by wealth, power or status. And though we all know this symbol, though we all think that it is a wonderful ideal, we also know that it is just that, an ideal. For when we turn on the news, when we see the events of the world unfold all around us, justice seems to be in short supply. The wicked seem to prosper while the righteous are pressed down over and over again.
When we see then the imbalance in the scales, when we see that perhaps she isn’t as blind as we might like her to be, we begin to demand some answers. As our Lord was teaching the crowds that gathered around him, someone told him about an unthinkable injustice done by the hands of good old Pontius Pilate. More than likely it happened in the context of Passover, when the Galilean Jews would be allowed into the temple precincts to offer sacrifices. All of the holiness codes of the people of God were grossly violated as Pilate order troops into the temple area to murder the Galileans at the very time they slaughtered their lambs for sacrifice. During this holy feast, the blood of the Jews was mingled with the blood of the lambs. No doubt, those who told Jesus such news wanted him to rebuke Pilate, make a stand against the Romans, or otherwise incite some strong reaction. But quite surprisingly, Jesus turns his attention to sin. Were those who suffered like this somehow worse sinners than others? Then he calls for all to repent, otherwise they too will feel the wrath of God.
In fact, he doubles down by recalling another story of suffering and death, this one free from the political and religious overtones of the horrors done by Pilate. He speaks about the tower of Siloam. This was an actual tower that was being built in the city of Jerusalem. When it collapsed during its construction, 18 people died. Jesus asks the question similar to the one he poses about he Galilean Jews. He says, “Do you think that these 18 people were somehow worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem?” In other words, did they get what they deserved? Is this justice in action? He is getting to the heart of one of the great questions of the faith. Why some and not others? Why do some prosper and others parish? Why do some skate by without punishment and others are unjustly cut down? Why do some get rewarded with wealth and prestige while others fall into obscurity and poverty? We want justice. We want her blindfolded and holding balanced scales and using her sword faithfully, but what are we to do when it all goes out of balance?
What Christians tend to do is make a habit of looking at their own life and searching it for corrections that make sense. When you see an imbalance, you tend to look to yourself to correct it. If you’re especially suffering, if life seems to be coming apart at the seams, if you roll from one disaster to the next in your life, you wonder what you need to do to fix it. What is it that you are not giving over to the Lord? What part of your life is lived outside of the will of the Father? Figure it out and fix it, and you can be sure that then the blessings will come. The scales will be balanced. Everything will be right with the world.
But we don’t stop at just long looks within ourselves. We don’t just dig deep to find the problem that we need to fix within ourselves. No, you begin to look at others. You begin to look at the lives of other people to find some predictable pattern of holy and righteous living so that you will receive the blessings you believe you deserve for a faithful life. After all, if you make sure that you produce the good fruit of the faith, you can anticipate the rich blessings in your life, right? If you are struggling, then you need to mature a bit in your faith, you need to produce better fruit, then the blessings will come. And what better fruit bearing can there be than to make sure others are bearing good fruit. You don’t just judge yourself; you judge one another. You point out the what is lacking, what demands justice, what is worthy of the retribution of God in the life of a brother or sister in Christ. Oh, you do it out of love, to be sure, or at least that’s what you tell yourself. Yes, you will go to great lengths to have Lady Justice reign supreme, to have your faith justified by the rewards and punishments of this life. It all must be fair. It must make sense. It must be just.
Then Jesus tells a parable. A strange short little parable about a fig tree. He says, “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?’” A tree that bears no fruit is worthless. It is using up prime real-estate. When I hear this parable, I can’t help but think of a conversation I’ve had with my wife (to be honest, it’s more of a rant on my part) about coffee pots. Yes, coffee pots, bear with me. You know the glass carafe that your coffee percolates into? For a while there, we went through several different models that dripped coffee all over the counter every time you poured it out. Now look, I’m not one to get upset about spilling coffee. However, what drives me crazy is that a coffee spout is designed to pour coffee into your cup; that is its one purpose. How can it be that it fails to do the one thing it is supposed to do? Who greenlighted the design that failed in its essential purpose?
So, the owner of the vineyard looks at a fruit tree that doesn’t produce any fruit and says, “cut it down!” But the vinedresser replies, “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 time is now for the tree to bear fruit, the time is now for the tree to do what trees are supposed to do. So, for you, for believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, for the children of God, the time is now. The time is now to repent lest you are crushed like the 18 who had the tower of Siloam fall upon them. The time is now to repent lest you perish like the Galileans who had their blood mixed with the sacrifices. The time is now to repent without judging the fruit of others or trying to fix it yourself.
To repent is to confess that you cannot do it. You cannot save yourself. You cannot fix your own sin. You cannot balance the scales and correct the injustice of this age. In fact, to repent is to be a fruit-bearing tree. It is to be what Christ has declared you to be, sinners in need of a savior. Repentance is not something you do once before moving on to living the Christian life; it is the Christian life. It is to confess that sin still clings to you, that the promises of Christ are needed each and every moment of every day. It is to believe and trust that there is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved. It is to let go of your idea of justice and balance and cling only to the words and the works of Christ.
Your hope is not found in successfully navigating the injustices of this world. It isn’t found in making sure she stays blindfolded and uses her sword judiciously. You hope doesn’t rest in making sure you are producing the fruit everyone wants you to produce. You hope isn’t located in making sure everything is fair and equitable. You hope is found in repentance, in confessing your sin and believing the Word of God, which says to you that this day in Christ alone you are forgiven. Here alone is hope, to repent is to believe in him, to bear fruit is to cling to him, and the time is now.