Then he told them 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)
I wonder how old that tree was. Whether it was just starting out, had passed the time that “they” – books, authorities, them that know – said it would take for a fledgling tree to be productive and ready to show the world what it was made of. Or if it was a tree that was getting along in years, had already demonstrated the quality of its character, the free flowing sap route up trunk, out branch and onto stem to produce a plethora of abundant, luscious figs. But that was then and this is now. No reason to begrudge it a good long rest, time to drink deeply and replenish the nutrients and minerals spent in the productivity cycle. Still, three years is a long time to be dry and barren, empty of the fruit that gave it value. Perhaps the time has come to name this dormancy for the end it is, lay the tree to rest and move on, giving thanks for what was while making room for the next generation of tree to grow and thrive, blossom and bear fruit.
Maybe the tree was still settling it’s roots, thinking about getting started in the family business. Or perhaps taking a long drink, scrambling to jump start the stalled juice flow in order to reignite fruitfulness. Either way, without the intervention of the gardener, the tree would be a pile of ash and a fading memory, with a young seedling set in its place. Without the gracious intercession, generous tending, resilient commitment to possibility of Another, there will be no second chance.
A tree is a tree, and not particularly adept at taking matters into its own hands. Then again, just because we humans are designed for resourceful problem-solving, creative imagination and articulate cries for help, it’s not clear we do much better in the barrenness-breaking department. Berate, cajole, badger all we want; ninety-nine percent of the time, we simply cannot will or force life into being. Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth didn’t fare any better than that threatened, barren tree when it came to ending their barrenness and opening the way to new life.
Where is the Gardener when we need her? A merciful hand ready to break open and breathe life into the tangled mess of soul dreams and night wounds, world weariness and flickering hope we’ve accumulated over the years. A loving heart able to shield us from the toxins of the past, while feeding our spirits with the decomposing remnants of what used to be.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
“Much like the fig tree, we cannot work our way out of barrenness. Beginning again is first of all a work of God’s grace. It is letting Jesus, together with the Holy Spirit, do something with our barrenness. It means allowing something new to happen and cooperating with God’s grace. The gospel of the second chance is not about what we can do to redeem ourselves or how we can put right our wrongs. It is about letting God bring forth fruit from our lives that we could never have produced on our own. God tends and cultivates us through the Holy Spirit in our midst. (Abigail W. Kocher, Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Volume 2, page 26)