I bet we can all think of instances when, as a child or an adult, we been warned not to do something but we go ahead regardless and something bad happens? And what do we get told – “There I told you so! You never listen to me or take any notice! You’ve got your comeuppance!
How often do we think it of others when we see them behaving badly or gaining advantage by ill means – and we’re thinking “They’ll get their comeuppance one day!” As I say that the minds of many, if not all of us, may well turn to the war in Ukraine. Our feelings of helplessness often lead us to thoughts of perpetrators getting their comeuppance.
These are the negative connotation side of ‘comeuppance’ which is, to be fair, probably most common; but there can be a positive side when we look for reward to come for good behaviour.
The dictionary says ‘Comeuppance’ is – to receive the treatment, or punishment, one deserves. And to approve of that happening.
This reading we have just heard from Luke seems to be about comeuppance.
Jesus and his band of followers are on their way to Jerusalem when they are greeted with news of terrible happenings in the city. A group of Galileans have been put to the sword by the Romans. Their blood flowed in the temple, mingling with the blood of sacrifices which had been made, polluting the sacred space, which just added to the horror and tragedy of such an event. Perhaps those who brought this news were warning Jesus not to go into Jerusalem; that it was not a safe place for Galileans. Probably better to stay away. There also seems that there was a hint in the news that the Galileans were actually causing some sort of upset in the temple and it’s no surprise they got their comeuppance. They were most likely sinners anyway. Stressing to Jesus not to go into the temple and cause trouble.
Jesus is most indignant at their warning. He knows he has to go to Jerusalem, and face the consequences. However this is not the moment to fill them in on that aspect so instead he lambasts the group around him for daring to suggest that the Galileans were more badly behaved than others and that they brought this upon themselves! And Jesus adds another incident reminding them that people were killed in Jerusalem when a tower collapsed in Siloam (a part of Jerusalem) Were they getting what they deserved? Their comeuppance?
Jesus challenges those around him – What makes you think that any of those killed in these incidents were bigger sinners than you are? Look at your own behaviour before you start pointing fingers at others.
We can see the similarity to Jesus’ teaching at other times when he talks of sawdust and planks in the eye and casting the first stone!
Holier than thou
If these people deserved to be destroyed, says Jesus, then so will you if you don’t acknowledge your own failings and change your ways. Holier than thou attitudes have no place in God’ kingdom!
I am reminded of those verses in 1 John 1 – If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
These verses form part of the act of confession in the Book of Common Prayer.
We come to church every Sunday and there is usually an act of confession in our service. We should take care that it is not just a form of words; that we really do bring our shortcomings before God; and that we truly resolve to act better in future. Because if we say the words but don’t do anything about it, is the truth in us? Forgiveness is not just a one-sided action. Jesus says that we should be ready to face up to, and own up to, our shortcomings. And not try to off-set them by pointing fingers at others.
The fig tree
Then Jesus continues on the comeuppance theme as he goes on to tell one of his parables. The fig tree which has failed to bear any fruit. Three years it has been there but not one fig has appeared. The owner wants to cut it down but the gardener pleads to give it one more chance. I’ll give it some particular care and attention over this next year, he says, if it doesn’t respond – then cut it down!
In this parable it is generally taken that God is the owner, Jesus is the gardener, and we are the fig tree. God is compassionate; he does have patience with us. Jesus gives us that extra care and attention in love and by his teaching. The parable speaks of forgiveness for failing to meet the expectation of bearing fruit; of being given a second chance.
The fig tree, that’s us, is expected to bear fruit. We will be expected to show we are responding to Jesus’ love and care and his words to us. Following Jesus, being God’s people, we are expected to produce results; to show that we are serious about who we are; that there is fruit from our labours. So if we haven’t done that so far; if we could have done better; if we’ve fallen short; we can come before Jesus; open our hearts; and say sorry, seek forgiveness and ask for another chance. Even with the terrible events in Ukraine, with all the horror of that situation; it is not too late for hands to be held high in acknowledgement that we have done wrong – give us a chance to put it right.
We are special
When Jesus told this parable of the fig tree, those listening would be well aware that a fig tree was a special plant, as was its fruit. Not many could afford to own one. It was a plant of great value and worth. Jesus was telling us that we, like the fig tree, are special to God; that he values each one of us.
So everyday let us remind ourselves of that. We are special; when we come together to worship, its special; when we read scripture or pray, it’s special; what ever we do for others, it’s special; following Jesus, being in God’s care, it’s special. Being special to God; knowing that we are greatly valued by him – let that be our comeuppance! Amen
“Comeuppance” was delivered by Nigel Silvester on Sunday 20th March 2022 at St John with St Mark, Bury. It was based on Luke 13:1-9.