If you don’t bear fruit, perish the thought, you’ll burn forever. Isn’t that why the axe lies at the foot of the tree (Matt. 3:10)? It’s to scare all the fruitless trees into taking care of the poor and outcasts. NOT. If any thought ought to perish, it’s the thought that God will do to you what so many biblical literalists proclaim.
For those who haven’t read the text in Luke, people were asking Jesus why bad things happened to people. He knew that they’d been taught for centuries that God is the Punisher of those who don’t follow the law; bad things happen to people who don’t observe the law and good things happen to those who do.
But his answer to that way of thinking was this: “No way!” and then he said,
“But unless you repent, you will perish like them.”
Now does that make sense? “God doesn’t bring punishment on you if you break a commandment, but if you don’t do what I say—you’ll perish/die/be destroyed like them.”
The first thought to perish is the definition that has “perished” the word repent from its intended meaning. The Greek word metanoia means to “change your mind” or to change the way you think.
Replace repent with the actual definition and it gets you started in the right direction of what Jesus was trying to teach. “No way! God doesn’t destroy you because you break a commandment. But unless you change the way you think……”
What will happen? You will die like the Galileans and the people killed in the tragic accident at the tower? No. Perish has to mean something other than the literal meaning.
So I looked up where the Greek word for perish is used. It’s the same word used in the following passages when referring to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:6); if you find your life, you will lose it and if you lose your life, you will find it (Matt. 10:38); if a man loses one sheep, does he not leave the ninety-nine to go find it (Luke 15:4).
That last verse is the one that makes me feel better about what Jesus meant by perish. To perish does not imply a negative eternal outcome like hell. You can perish and still be found by the Shepherd and returned to the flock.
Perish is more like being in a state of spiritual decline, destruction, death. You aren’t living the quality of life God intended for you (eternal life).
This is confirmed in the story that follows this text. Jesus goes into a synagogue and heals a woman who had been sick for 18 years. The number 18 specifically connects the two stories because – how many people were killed in the accident at the tower of Siloam? 18. How many other places is the number 18 found in the New Testament? None.
When Jesus broke the religious commandment that said you shouldn’t heal on the Sabbath, the ruler of the synagogue went ballistic. He was the barren fig tree. He hadn’t changed the way he thought about God and the commandments. These corporate regulations feed and nourish no one.
Producing fruit is to bring healing and wholeness and comfort and peace to those who are hurting—regardless of the prescriptions proclaimed by the institution. Jesus laid hands on the woman and she was healed. It was the synagogue leader who was perishing. He was not living the eternal life in which there was peace, joy, love, kindness, etc., because he was perishing in his attachment to the law.
Something in me wishes Jesus would have laid hands on the throat of the synagogue leader and worked a little healing there. Perish the thought.