The Barren Fig Tree, by Christine Hides
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6–9
Reflection: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem when his followers inform him of the latest breaking news events: Pilate has killed a group of worshipers and a tower has fallen, crushing 18. They ask Jesus if these tragedies happened because the victims were “worse sinners” than others. So he told them a parable.
As we read about the fig tree we assign, sometimes unconsciously, the parts of frugal owner, barren tree, and patient gardener. Often we become the tree, God is the owner, Jesus the gardener. Thanks to Jesus we get one more year to get our act together and live as God intends.
Nadia Bolz Weber takes a different approach, imagining what it means to cast ourselves as both the orchard owner and the tree. After all aren’t we often our own harshest critics? Aren’t we the ones who quietly wonder if the victim of the latest tragedy in the news could have somehow avoided it? Aren’t we the ones who favor productivity over second chances?
Jesus refuses to engage in the crowd’s comparisons. Instead he reveals divine compassion and patience. We hear of his willingness to dig around the barren patches in our hearts, nurturing them so that the fruit of love for God and neighbor might grow. “This is the God we see in Jesus Christ. A God who tells our inner judge-y vineyard owner to back off because you are a beloved child of God who God has named and claimed and forgiven and loved as God’s very own so that you can bear fruit. So to all of you God again says…one more year. Amen.”
Christ our Gardener,
Tend us year after year.