March 6, 2013

Lenten Journey: The Fig Tree

And he told them this parable:  "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none.  So cut it down.  Why should it exhaust the soil?'  He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, ans I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.  If not you can cut it down.'" 
- Luke 13:6-9 
For Reflection...

It's just a simple fact.  Fig trees are meant to bear fruit.  That is God's will.  If I plant one in my orchard, that's what I'm going to expect of it.  Other trees can get by with just providing shade or looking attractive.  Fig trees can do those things too, but they are also supposed to produce a harvest of figs.

Producing fruit is the nature of the fig tree.  It doesn't have to do anything in particular.  It can't, after all.  It can draw water and nutrients from the soil.  Its leaves can capture sunlight and by photosynthesis turn it into life energy.  Beyond that, it just sits there, rooted in the ground, waiting for summer.

What does it mean if the tree isn't bearing fruit?  Maybe, as the landowner in the parable might suspect, this tree is a dud.  Or maybe, as the gardener suggests, the tree hasn't been cultivated sufficiently.  More water?  More fertilizer?  A fresh tilling of the soil?  More loving care and nurture?  Maybe that's what's needed.

God's will for the fig tree is that it grow to maturity and bear fruit.  God's will for me is that I grow to maturity (Ephesians 4:14-15) and bear fruit too (Galatians 5:22-23).  I'm made for it, and so are you.  It is our nature.  We don't have to make it happen.

What we are called to do, like the fig tree, is to be receptive to the ministrations of the gardener.  We can reach our roots deeply into the ground and draw from the living waters (Jeremiah 17:8).   And we can endure the work of our cultivation.

The fig tree stands steady through the digging and the spreading of manure and the pruning.  It's messy and it smells.  It's painful to lose branches, even as the branches that remain hold the promise of bearing more fruit (see John 15:2).

And bearing fruit is what we're made for.

For Entering In...

Spend a few moments in silence becoming present to yourself and to God.

Reflect on these questions:
  • God has made a world filled with variety.  As there are many kinds of fruit-bearing trees, so there are many gifts among us.  What do you see as your particular gifts?  What sort of fruit are you made to bear?
  • The fig tree can't make itself bear fruit.  Have you had an experience of trying to demand of yourself that you accomplish something?  How was that for you?  Was it difficult or easy?  Do you feel you were successful or unsuccessful?
  • How are you at waiting?  If the gardener has to do the work, we have to trust the gardener's timing.  What is it like for you when your timing and the gardener's aren't the same?
  • How do you see yourself being cultivated?  What is God doing?  Digging?  Spreading manure?  Pruning?  How receptive are you?  Have you ever experienced your own suffering as a source of the gardener's care?
- Today or tomorrow or this weekend -- or all three, as your time allows -- spend some time in silence with the word you have fastened to your heart.  Just gently hold your word, allowing all other thoughts or feelings that come up to float by.  Know that God is with you.

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