Here's a first draft - I have to confess I've enjoyed my wrestle with this (lesser known, to me anyway) parable.
tell us a story of 2 trees. The story of the burning bush and God speaking to Moses is very familiar to us – but how can God speak to us from Jesus’ parable of the fig tree?
So many of Jesus’ parables begin with ‘the kingdom of heaven is like this..’ – but it seems that this parable springs from the questions with which people are coming to Jesus.
Here’s the introduction again:
“There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
People want reassurance from Jesus that when bad things hit people it's a sign that God is judging bad people, not ordinary people like them. People are wondering about these disasters, just as we might be wondering about the disasters in Haiti, Chile & so on.
Jesus warns his listeners that these people overtaken by terrible events are no different from them – but stresses that the story of these disasters should act as a wake-up call that they should take the opportunity to change their lives and repent.
Then Jesus tells the parable, to turn our attention away from judging others & onto judging ourselves – don’t busy yourself with why other people might be suffering and whether it means they might have been sinners. Look at your own life, at the time you have left, and ask how you are living. Surely we should be living our lives so that they bear good fruit.
A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard – presumably because he liked figs. There’s not much advantage to planting a fig tree in a vineyard otherwise – they just take nutrients out of the soil. And they are, apparently, very 'hungry' plants - a friend tells me "you should always bury a dead donkey under a fig tree” - eeeugh! But the vineyard owner decides to sacrifice some of his soil’s nutrients to gain some delicious figs – which are normally produced by the tree after 2 years. Unfortunately even after 3 years this tree is not producing fruit.
The obvious thing to do with this fig tree is cut it down.
But the tree gets another chance, the gardener doesn’t side with common sense, but decides to stick up for the tree.
“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."
This is good news for the fig tree – and since Jesus tells the parable as a way of encouraging people to repent, it is good news for each of us.
The gardener is patient with the tree, just as God is patient with us and gives us 'time to amend our lives' as some prayers of confession put it.
But Jesus tells this story as a cliff-hanger.
The owner wants to cut the tree down, the gardener pleads for a second chance and offers to try digging around and adding more compost. And…
…what happens?? Does the tree take the opportunity it is given to produce some figs and justify its place in the vineyard??
We don’t know. There Jesus hands over to you as the listener – what will happen to the tree depends on the tree. What will happen to you depends on you. Are you going to take the opportunity to change & be more fruitful?
We might think that the news stories of disasters test us – they test our faith in a loving God and a predictable world. But Jesus tells us that the real test is what you do with your life-chance.
God, the gardener, wants us to be fruitful. I was asking a gardener this week why he thought this tree was given another chance, and he said ‘well you always give them one more year to come good – no-one likes to give up on a plant’.
If that’s how we mortals feel about a mere plant, how much more does God long to see us become fruitful, to give us a chance to turn our lives around and become more likely to display the fruits of the spirit (love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness self-control).
And God not only wants to see us become fruitful, he send his Spirit to help us to do that – he digs around our roots and gives us compost – he helps us become the fruitful people we were made to be.
Receive God’s gift of this communion meal, and seize the opportunity to become more fruitful, to the glory of God. Amen.