The passage chosen for our message during chapel today inspired, challenged, and blessed me.
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
Luke 13:6-9 ESV
Firstly, to understand this passage, we must understand the symbols in this parable. Luckily my students and I have been working on symbolism this week. The fruits, or lack thereof, on this fig tree represent the good qualities God expects us to manifest in our lives. God knows we can be dumb sheep sometimes, so he spells out those qualities very clearly in Galatians 5:22-23. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Uh-oh, no fruit
How perfect is it that this is the third year that the owner has come back looking for fruit in his vineyard? I don’t know a whole lot about vineyards, so I did a quick Google search. Depending on the conditions, it seems people agree it may take a few years to see fruit in a vineyard. It’s perfectly believable that he’d have been patient this long. Likewise, God is patient with us when it takes us some time to start acting like his followers. He knows we have to grow into it as new Christians.
There will come a time, though, when God comes back to inspect and expects to see some fruit. That’s when we get to the part of the parable where the owner wants to chop down the tree because there still isn’t fruit.
Second, Third, and Fourth Chances
Can’t you just imagine the gardener saying, “no, wait! Let me try just a little longer”? I picture this role as Jesus saying to the Father, “give me just a little longer with this one”. Notice the gardener references the work he’s going to do with this plant: dig around it and put on manure. That’s what Jesus does for us when he works through the Holy Spirit to nudge us in the right direction. He nurtures us in hopes that we’ll start producing fruit.
An Unfinished Story
The parable ends without letting us know the outcome of the fig tree. The owner agrees to one more year of waiting, and then Luke moves on to another event. It’s left up to the reader to imagine if the tree produces or not. That’s on purpose. Jesus wants us to then examine our own lives. Are we producing fruit or do we need to be nurtured?