Devotion for the Third week of Lent, 2016
“Then [Jesus] 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.’” Luke 13:6-9
Enriched by Grace, Bearing Fruit
It’s not as if there was a shortage of fig trees in this region. In fact, fig trees generally produce two fruitful seasons in a year, sometimes three. Fig trees were often grown in vineyards, and in ancient times having fig trees was considered to be a sign of peace and security (1 Kings 4:25, in part: “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety … all of them under their vines and fig trees.”) So the vineyard owner in the parable was certainly justified in ordering this fruitless tree to be cut down. It was “wasting the soil,” taking from the land without giving anything back.
The gardener pleads for mercy on this wretched tree, and proposes fertilizing and enriching the soil even more in order to give it one more chance. This act of grace gives the tree a new opportunity to provide fruitful service in response to the one to whom it owes its very life.
The parable is told to followers of Jesus who were accompanying him and who, because of their Jewish teachings, believed certain disasters and death fell upon men because of their great sins (Luke 13:1-5). Two times Jesus said to them, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” The pronoun “you” here is plural, addressing the Jews collectively. In the parable, the story of the fruitless fig tree can be interpreted not only as encompassing all those walking with Jesus collectively, but also as a singular and personal admonition to anyone who hears it – repent or perish. Jesus reminds us we, too, have been enriched by grace in order to bear fruit, to give back to the one to whom we owe our very existence, but that we need to turn away from wasting the rich blessings we have been given.
In the words to his hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing in 1758, the Rev. Robert Robinson wrote “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!” As we continue through our Lenten journey of reflection, penitence and prayer, let us permit this grace to bind our wandering hearts to the one who gave us breath, in order to serve Him completely.
Gracious and loving God, during this season help us to remove those obstructions in our hearts that impede our acknowledgement and acceptance of your boundless grace and mercy, so that through the Holy Spirit we may bear fruit that brings all honor and glory to you; in Christ, Amen.