The following is a revision and update to a post from March of 2016.
Scripture has a way of tugging at your heart when God needs you to hear a message. One way I’ve found to understand how the scripture pertains to my personal journey is to “insert” myself into the passage. By doing this, it seems to draws out more meaning in prayer. Who do you identify with?
What feeling does it invoke? And why? I’ve found this technique helpful in studying scripture.
I couldn’t help find a connection in the reading from Luke, the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree. Just this week, I was contemplating tossing these mangled branches – called a fig plant. I cannot even call it a fig tree as it is the same size it was three years ago when I purchased it. I water it moderately throughout the winter months as it takes its place indoors by a large window with lots of light (I bring it in from the harsh Northeast winter). Every year, I get excited to see the leaves sprout and I wait patiently as the weather warms and I can begin to wean it back to its place on our outside deck, just to be disappointed again when it bears no fruit.
When I heard the parable, I laughed and thought God was in tune with my menial thoughts about my fig tree, but for the next several days, as I looked at my mangled mess, I felt drawn to dive deeper into the scripture passage.
Luke 13:6-9 says
“He also spoke this parable: A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none.
Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years, I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it: And if it bears fruit, well: but if not, after that you can cut it down.’”
Digging (pun intended) into the scripture a bit, I found that the fig tree was often a common symbol for Israel. The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel’s unresponsiveness to the Word of God. God was disappointed when they did not bear fruit (Is 5:1-7). Israel was being offered one last chance for repentance. The three years has been interpreted as meaning the period of Jesus’ ministry.
God is so patient with us, isn’t he? He gives us so many chances to wake up and get it right; repent of our sins and try to make better choices. After all, our life here on earth was meant to bear fruit; to share our gifts and love with others to grow His Kingdom. I’m sure, just like myself, God may sometimes be disappointed with my efforts, my lack of understanding or unwillingness to bear “good fruit”. Yet, there He is, every day, ready to prune my branches, dig up the earth around me, fill me with good fertilizer, and rain down His mercy upon me. His Holy Spirit is always there with me, to guide and support me. His grace – these gifts, if not shared, cannot bear the fruit in our lives that He is expecting of us. (Matt 25: 14-30)
So, just like the Master Gardener, this gardener will take care to heed God’s Word in my life as well as with my unfruitful fig tree – I will dig up the soil around it – fertilize it – and care for it while there is still time to bear good fruit.
As I revise this post, 3 years later – I’m happy to report that my fig tree has its first fig! As reported, I did dig up all the soil in the old pot and replace it with fresh, new soil and took care to fertilize it. I repeated the same steps but the following summer came and still no fruit. I didn’t have the heart to toss it, but once more fertilized the soil and gave it a little TLC – again no fruit. Just when I thought the process was hopeless and my efforts were for naught, I reached out to an expert who’d been growing fig trees for years with great success. To my surprise, my TLC was what was causing the problem. Sometimes we do the right thing at the wrong time or in the wrong way.
Every year, I brought the fig tree inside after all the leaves had fallen and placed it in the corner of the living room where there’s lots of light. Then, maybe once a month, I gave it a cup of water. ALL WRONG! Here, at least in the Northeast, you’re supposed to wait for the leaves to drop then place the plant in a cool, dark place (like your basement or garage) and only water minimally once per month during the dormant months of winter. Had I only reached out to an expert on the process sooner, I would have saved myself a lot of time and energy….and I would have had figs!!!
Lesson learned – if what you are doing isn’t yielding a fruitful harvest, perhaps someone with a little more wisdom can help. Always be open to learning and growing.
If you love figs and want to learn more on how to grow them, the Potted Fig has great, short videos for the newbie and expert alike as well as recipes and so much more. (Find him on Facebook too @thepottedfig)!
So, as I take heed to dig, fertilize, and care for God’s gifts, I will also need to remember that listening to wise guidance should also be included.