I had a tougher time writing this sermon this week because I couldn’t stop thinking about this little fig tree.
We don’t know much about it, except that it’s at least three years old, and barren. A barren fig tree in the middle of a vineyard seems like a pitiable character.
But what good reason might it have not to bear fruit?
Researching fig trees, they can take anywhere from 2-6 years to fruit
Moreover, it’s not always exactly known when a fig tree will go to fruit.
So, when the owner of the field, who doesn’t seem to have a particular investment outside of getting fruit from the fig tree, so as not to spoil the soil, it’s a bit shocking for me.
I appreciate the economics of it. We only have so many finite resources, we want to use them well.
But we have no sense of whether this fig tree was about to bloom, to bear fruit, so the cold weight of the axe feels even heavier.
There is also for me a particular tragedy in the potential of the fig tree to be so suddenly thrown to the side with the felling of an axe.
It has done apparently the best it could up to that point, and it will be killed.
The fig tree won’t know.
And here’s where the toughest question came: what wrong, truly, had the fig tree done to deserve its fate?
This is a piece of God’s Creation, deemed good. Doing mostly what it’s supposed to do.
What causes it to deserve its fate differently? Is it really only fruit? It seems to be a tragedy, to lose life that way.
You might be wondering how this all connects to repentance, and how we’re reconciled to it.
We’ve talked about repentance before - the Greek word metanoia - to change one’s mind.
It’s not just a “well, I’m not going to sin anymore,” but instead a wholesale change - it’s more about reformation.
Our instincts might cause us to think that the tragic moments in our lives might be the result of some lack of “repentance” in its most shallow sense - just choosing not to do something wrong. But that line of thinking no better answers the question of the Galileans or the 18 crushed under the tower than it does why an owner would cut a fig tree only after a couple of years or why any of the tragic things that happen in our world happen.
To become buried in a series of “he didshe didI did so he deservesshe deservesI deserve” won’t get us anywhere, and probably does us no better than yelling at our gardens imploring them to grow a bounty.
Our first repentance is a change of mind from blaming, because it won’t get us anywhere - a point Jesus makes really quickly here.
So where is repentance? Where is the life-change for the better?
We can point to the owner.
The owner, after all, had foreclosed on the hope of the tree. It had been given its chance, it was too far gone, and it was a waste of resources.
What we hope for is another change of mind - we want the owner to graciously accept the gardeners offer, and that the fig tree is tended to.
The problem is, however, that our parable here remains open-ended. We don’t actually know what happens next.
We can point to the gardener for a change of mind.
It’s been three years that this tree had been growing, but in this third year, with the promise of death, the gardener has a change of mind.
The gardener will walk through an entire season with the tree, and give it extra care, feeding it what it needs in order to thrive.
So if part of reconciling to repentance is to stop the blame, the next part is to provide care to those who are in the process of bearing fruit.
Ties into last week’s sermon - where are the places where we would prefer to place the blame (they’re poor because x, y, z) and instead focus on fertilizing the soil around them? To see even the folks within our congregation as trees just ready to bloom.
Our Godly laments bring forth our repentance which moves our action! And this isn’t meant to be something that we sit and regret, but instead just move forward (the gardener doesn’t talk about not caring for the tree at the beginning, but instead just starts the work).
And the reality of an unknown fate should quicken our steps towards, not move against. We cannot wait until late in the day to work towards the care of people we can help grow.
Who are you today? At any given moment we could be any of these characters, and are probably all of them on any given day.
But if we are to be reconciled to repentance, we must keep moving towards a wholesale reformation of our thinking.
And here’s our own open-ended story...
Jesus acted as the gardener in our lives, but I wonder where that
Who was the gardener in your life?
Take a moment and remember that gardener, who helped you bear fruit.