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
I’ve come late to gardening. I’m what you might call a late bloomer! I’ve recently become fascinated with watching new growth and am learning strategies for planting that give the best results. But I’ve discovered I don’t like waiting. Every day, I check to see if there’s any progress. I am an impatient gardener.
In Jesus’ parable, the owner had expected a decent crop from his fig tree. After all, hadn’t he chosen the most fertile patch he could find for it, next to the vines? Hadn’t he already patiently waited for three years? Wasn’t his order justified to cut it out of the garden to make room for another tree that would be fruitful?
That day should have been that barren tree’s last day. But incredibly, the head gardener makes a plea for the owner to go against his better judgement and wait another full year, while the tree would receive even greater attention to encourage fruitfulness, and so escape the sentence hanging over it.
In this parable, Jesus continues the major Gospel theme of the call to repentance (v1-5). But here, He particularly wants us to grasp the stunning, unmerited patience of God, and the costly intercession of His Son Jesus Christ. “He, to save my soul from danger, interposed His precious blood,” is how the hymn puts it. He wants us to understand that He, like the owner, is justified in looking for ripe, sweet fruit that grows out of true repentance!
What fruit does God look for, from us?
God reminds us we were that fig tree. We were under the same just judgement to “cut it down,” but Christ allowed Himself to be “cut down” in my place. He has patiently cultivated our hard hearts and now our lives are securely rooted in Him. In this season of life, whatever else has been stripped away or withheld, we have Jesus! Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we can proclaim, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). This truth helps to grow in us the fruit of patient trust and surrender to God, whatever painful means He is currently using to mature us.
God also reminds us, now we are in Christ, we share His ministry of intercession for other fruitless trees. It is hard to fulfil our responsibility to keep loving those who withhold the fruit of love, kindness or care. When their lack of fruit makes our lives more difficult, we draw on Christ’s love in us (Romans 5:5) to intercede with God for the same patience for them, that God has shown me, whilst trusting Christ Himself to meet our own needs. Like Christ, our Head Gardener, we won’t be content to only withhold wrong, but will go further to give outrageousrelational grace, (see 1 Thess 5:15-19) expecting Christ to work His miracle of fruitfulness in both of us!