THE FIG TREE

Alaska Earthquake

The Randomness of life — Alaskas Earthquake, 1964

Things (good things, bad things), like Dr. Seuss’ Thing One and Thing Two,[1] just happen. We live largely a random existence.

We don’t know when the walls of a tower will fall on us, or be victimized as the people who died on September 11, 2001. Think about the world today. The wars in the Middle East displacing people by the millions and killing people by the hundred thousand are only a start when we think of the randomness of life. The mass murders in the country remind us that even small children are the victims of a random existence. We could ask the same question of Jesus, who sinned, the children or their parents?  There are two things we can expect in a human existence: First, change, and second the random unexpected outcome.

While we cannot plan for random disaster, we can prepare for the day we face the ultimate trial of life.

Jesus was talking about that randomness when he spoke of the tower falling and killing eighteen people.[2] The executed Galileans whose blood was mingled with a pagan sacrifice are also victims of a random disaster.[3] Jesus, however, told all those who were with him that they too will face the same potential fate; the same outcome of life—we don’t know what is next. While we cannot plan for random disaster, we can prepare for the day we face the ultimate trial of life. That preparation includes living your life fully to your God-given potential. By that, I mean being God’s person seeking ways to change ideas, outlooks, and biases. That preparation also includes looking for ways to reconcile with those we think of as inferior. Further, the preparation includes looking to Jesus as our example of how life is to be lived. I don’t mean we should become wandering rabbis picking up disciples as we move about, but instead looking to Jesus on how he responded to human difficulty and human existence in general.

After this discussion of random events, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree.[4] I see this story as a beautiful example of Jesus teaching us how to live. All too often we give up on ourselves and others. We see the future as hopeless. All too often, also, we make decisions about the future based on either false or misleading information. Or, worse, we give up on others as well as ourselves based on what is currently in theirs and in our lives. We give up on the possibility of change

It is easier to be demanding and ugly.

The effort to change is more difficult than we often imagine. It is easier to fall back into unproductive patterns of living.  in interpersonal relationships—marriage, siblings, coworkers—we make an effort, usually brief, to listen and care, but it is easier to be demanding and ugly. We wish it were not so, but think about relationships in families or in work or other social situations; there is often tension that can be altered by being God’s person.

Figs

The Owner of the Fig Tree Expected Lush Ripe Figs Like These.

The owner of the tree, in the parable, is a metaphor for God. The gardener is a metaphor for Jesus. In this parable, Israel is the fig tree; however, we can expand the story and let it suggest that we are the fig tree. Therefore, it appears that Jesus’ task was, and continues to be, caring for that tree. In other words, Jesus came to stir things up. He came to bring nourishment to those who are suffering from a lack of purpose, a lack of love, and a lack of self-respect. He is the gardener who will save the tree. He is the gardener who has come to save us. He has come to revive in us the joys of life in abundance.

When a plant is cared for well it will bear fruit. When a plant is neglected it will neither bloom nor survive—we can apply that to life, all life. 

600px-TeacParable of the Fig Tree

Etching by Jan Luyken The Fig Tree Parable Found in the Bowyer Bible.

The story of the fig tree is an invitation to become gardeners as Jesus is the gardener. Let’s see what a gardener can do. In Jesus’ parable, the gardener says he will break up the soil around the tree so it can be better nourished. The gardener is going change the conditions of the fig tree’s life in order to give nourishment to the tree. When a plant is cared for well it will bear fruit. When a plant is neglected it will neither bloom nor survive—we can apply that to life, all life.

However, a tree is an inanimate object. It has no say in what it does or does not do; trees are where they are and that’s it. Unlike the tree we can move around and reestablish ourselves. We can even assist in the divine tending; we can fully enjoy the efforts to stir up the ground around us and we can assist in nourishing our lives. We can be planted here or somewhere else and we can, as they saying goes, “bloom where we are planted,” or find a new vineyard.

An Episcopal Priest named Tom Erich,[5] provided a succinct restatement of the parable of the fig tree when he wrote these words, and I leave you with them to ponder further, “Like the fig tree, we are designed by God to bear fruit. If we fail to do so, we frustrate God’s will and impoverish creation. If we do bear fruit, even a handful of figs, we take a small step toward turning wilderness to garden, despair to hope, injustice to justice, death to life.”


 

[1] Geisel, Theodore, writing as Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat, 1957.

[2] Luke 13:1-9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Op. cit.

[5] Erich, Tom, “Making a Difference: Silence,” On a Journey, March 10, 2007.

Photo: Alaska Earthquake from Alaska Earthquake Image File=Internet.

Photos of the figs and the Jan Luyken etching in public domain from Wikipedia.

 

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