On the road to Jerusalem the crowd arrives to tell Jesus about what has happened to some Galileans whom Pilate put to death. Of course this comes immediately after Jesus talking about reconciliation with one’s opponent (Luke 12:57-59). Jesus’ responds with the repeated, rhetorical questions regarding the guilt of the Galileans along with the Siloam incident. "Do you think they were worse offenders than the rest? (Luke 13:2,4). To it he adds a parable without interpretation about a barren fig tree. He seems to be urging them to a timely change. So two parts: the report (Luke 13:1-5) and the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9).
We know nothing about the Pilate incident but it is consistent with Pilate's character nor about the tower of Siloam deaths. The point of the report is that Jesus insists that the crowd has so far escaped a fate the Galileans and those Jerusalemites encountered, not because of their relative sinlessness or goodness but because of God’s temporary clemency. Said otherwise we need to understand the tragedy that befalls someone is not the same as God's judgment. Tragedy does not only come to those who lack goodness. Furthermore the emphasis is on the fact that "all" (repeated four times) can expect judgment apart from repentance.
The parable of the fig tree gives voice to the fact that God's mercy is the only reason that an unrepentant person has escaped judgment. The detail of the parable emphasizes two points. First, the fact that the tree produces no fruit but second, there is hope for the bearing of fruit. Digging and fertilizing the tree in spite all that may have gone before expresses not just a warning of judgment but a hope for change. It is still clear that time is of essence, a year is given. The relationship between the necessity of repentance in the report (especially Luke 13:3, 5) and the possibility of change is brought home forcefully.
The question during Lent 2013 is how to dig and fertilize the tree. How might we assist in reenforcing the need of repentance and nurturing those whom Jesus calls? Remembering that "all," repeated four times (Luke 13:2, 3, 4, 5) are addressed not just some select group. And there is a real urgency!