This section (Lk 13: 1-9) is peculiar to Luke and is derived from his own source (‘L’). Some people report to Jesus about the Galileans who where murdered by the Roman prefect Pilate (Lk 13: 1). It is possible that the report is concerned with a recent occurrence of how Pilate had, through his soldiers, executed a few Galilean pilgrims while they were in the act of slaughtering the sacrificial animals presumably in the temple of Jerusalem. This particular incident is not otherwise recorded in secular or Biblical texts. But Pilate’s suppression of any revolt and his atrocities on Jews are well documented especially in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. In the story we are not told about the motive of Jesus’ informants. Jesus insists that the victims of the deliberate murder must not be regarded as greater sinners than other Galileans. He does not share the popular belief that disasters and suffering are the result of past sins (cf. Job 4: 7; Jn 9: 2-3). Rather, he interprets their sudden death only as a salutary warning to his listeners to undertake timely repentance and reform. The punch line of the episode is emphatically repeated twice: “but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13: 3, 5).
Now Jesus himself introduces another incident, the accidental death of eighteen Jerusalemites by a falling tower (Lk 13: 4). The reference is to a tower in the old wall of ancient Jerusalem, which was near the pool if Siloam. Jesus again affirms that these eighteen in no way were worse sinners than other Jerusalemites. Jesus merely wants the people to learn a lesson from these incidents before it is too late. They must repent and accept the word of salvation that he brings. Death may come upon anyone suddenly (cf. Lk 12: 20).
The parable of the fig tree in Luke 13: 6-9 once again renews the plea for repentance by showing the critical nature of the hour in which Jesus’ contemporaries live. Like the fig tree which is given a final chance or period of grace to bear fruits, so Israel must respond to Jesus’ call to repentance and timely reform. The period of his call is the last hour, the last chance before God’s judgement (over Israel). If not, there will be a fateful end.
In the context of the preceding verses of Luke 13: 1-5, any stubbornness from the part of Jesus’ contemporaries will be ‘punished.’ For inactive and unproductive Israel will be guilty of a ‘greater sin.’
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