In the Gospel of Luke (13:6-9), Jesus provides us with the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree:
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, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.’
The fig tree is prominent in Sacred Scripture. In 1 Kings 4:25, we are told that Judah and Israel dwelt in safety beneath a fig tree. In Jeremiah (24:1-3), two baskets of figs were placed before the Temple of the Lord. And in the Book of Genesis (3:4-7), after Adam and Eve had consumed the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” Shortly thereafter, God entered into a dialogue with them and asked the eternal question: “Where are you?”
With regard to their original sin, God recognized that they had lost their footing and were falling. Having been enveloped by sin, they were akin to a ship without a rudder, an airplane without wings, or any one of us without GPS guiding us to our next destination.
Today, as we look around, many of us feel that our world has become chaotic and tumbling toward the next “low.” From our perspective, it seems that elements of our lives that were always considered as “rock solid” have been smashed to bits. For instance, our society, which once promoted the “Golden Rule” at every turn, now seems to look away and say: To each their own; Whatever makes them happy; or, Who am I to judge? As I write this, a story about a father and son has caught my eye. No, the article is not about a dad teaching his son to catch a baseball, fish, or ride a bicycle. But rather, it is about a father and son who’ve been robbing credit unions and tobacco shops in Las Vegas. Ironically, the son’s name is Jessy James.
But, so much for negativism. In returning to our parable, there is a “divine opening” provided that golfers might describe as a gimme or sailors an escape hatch: Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.
For Christians, we might describe this as our patient God extending His merciful hand in our direction. As revealed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it shows God’s ongoing openness to providing us with “second chances.” The Book of Wisdom (15:1) sums up God’s feelings for us: “But you, our God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy.”
So, today, we might ask ourselves: Is this the year that we will unburden ourselves with the clutter of the past—and begin again? Is this the year that we will right the wrongs of our lives? Is this the year that we will ask our merciful Lord to fertilize the earth around us and fill us with His Spirit and love? Is this the year that we will begin to bear the fruit that God intended for us since before time began? Is this the year that we will abandon those things which are fleeting and recommit our lives to the harmony of eternity?
Is this our year?