Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 63:1-8; I Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
It is almost, almost gardening season. My tulips and daffodils are not quite blooming, but some of my neighbors’ flowers are. So, it’s time to do a garden cleanout; time to redo the edging; time to cut back last year’s growth that I kept for the birds to pick apart.
You know, I think Jesus was a gardener.
Let’s go to the parable from the Gospel (the good news) according to St. Luke. 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 [the gardener] 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.
We know that the fig tree frequently stands for Israel; that owner would be God, and the gardener would be Jesus. The custom in ancient Israel was to give a fig tree up to three years to produce fruit. If no fruit, then it was cut down and another tree planted in its place. An unproductive tree was a waste of space and took valuable nutrients out of the thin soil. In this parable, the gardener, Jesus, said, “Let’s give it one more year. I will give it more manure, more fertilizer, more care, and then perhaps it will bear fruit. Maybe with the added attention, the tree would be a productive fruit giver rather than a taker of soil nutrients.”
Now let’s extend the parable. With Jesus as the gardener of this nonproductive tree, it implies that we, the living Body of Christ, are to extend our patience as we garden, as we nourish, the nonproductives we encounter. We are to add value to our gardens, and with patience, say “one more year”, and “one more year”, and “one more year”. We are to nurture others so that they produce more fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. This is our ministry as people of faith. I think you might summarize the Church’s mission as to nurture others, for us to be fertilizer spreaders. To put it another way, we are to nurture others so that they will develop into givers, into fruit bearers, not takers, pulling from the soil with no return. Takers need to be nurtured and reorient their lives to be givers, to be generous.
One final reflection on this parable, note that the gardener did not offer to cut down the nonproductive tree, even if it failed to produce after the added year of nurturing. He said, “you can cut it down”. To cut it down was above his own pay grade; it was the owner’s choice to remove the tree or not. It was God’s determination; it was God’s choice.
To wrap up, we are called to be gardeners, to be nurturers, like Jesus, even in challenging times. We are also called to be fruit bearers, to be givers, not takers, even in challenging times.
Richard of Chichester in 12th century England was elected bishop during a contentious and violent time, but the king, King Henry III, did not approve. The king locked him out of his residence and out of his financial support. So, Richard took a room with a neighboring priest. Richard walked his diocese, and lived a frugal life, ate no meat. As he traveled, he stayed with fishermen and farmers. Richard of Chichester is remembered as a nurturer of the common people of his diocese. He is also remembered for the following prayer.
O most holy Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day.