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.'"
This Sunday, we hear this parable from the Gospel of St. Luke. And like all good parables, there is so much more than meets the eye. This isn't a simple interaction between a master and a gardener over a fig tree that isn't producing. This is an example of how the Gospel of Jesus changes our perceptions about everything.
The master is angry because he has grown impatient over the lack of fruit for three years. Moreover, he is upset that the tree could be wasting the soil, presumably for the other vines in the vineyard. He exerts his authority over the gardener by commanding, "Cut it down!" But then the tables are turned, and the hired gardener exerts his own new found authority: "Sir, let it alone..." He offers his labor and his skill in order to revive the tree in the hopes that it will bear fruit and make the master happy. But after a year, if the fig tree doesn't bear fruit, he says to the master, "...you can cut it down."
The master commands the gardener. The gardener commands the master. And all over something neither of them have much control over: The bearing of fruit from this fig tree. And isn't that the way of this Christian life of ours?
On the one hand, the parts of our life and our faith that we think are strong attempt to command and control things to our liking and to our needs. And then suddenly, the weaker and seemingly subordinate areas of our life and our faith overtake us with their own powers. You can put the pieces together about your own life of faith and where they fit on either side. But both seem to be revolving around something over which we have no control. In this parable, it's a fig tree. But in reality, it's God.
The master in this parable is right and has just cause for his command. And so is the gardener in his own desire and command. But what animates them both is something they cannot control. Let the fig tree symbolize God here, and let all of us see ourselves either in the master, the gardener, or both.
God invites each of us to react. It may be in anger and frustration at things we cannot control. It may be in the need to protect and care. It may be something entirely different. But Gods presence, Gods invitation, Gods very being invites us to engage in our own lives and in the lives of others...and most importantly, in the life of God.
This season of Lent (and always), give it a try.
Faithfully in Christ,