“About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. ‘Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?’Jesus asked. ‘Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.’ Then Jesus told this story: ‘A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘”I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.” The gardener answered, “Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.”‘” – Luke 13:1-9NLT
When my parents bought the house they live in now, I was five years old. There were maybe ten trees on their property in rural Colorado, part of the fence was falling down, years of junk and old branches were piled in the pasture, there was almost no living lawn left, and there were years of cigarette stains on the walls and in the carpet. My parents certainly bought into a lot of work, and while some buy fix-up properties and pay others to transform them into dreams come true shortly afterward, that wasn’t an option for my family.
Instead, my dad made something that became notorious in my family… “the List”. I don’t know if it ever actually existed in a written-down form or if it was merely in my dad’s head, but we referred to “the List” with the same familiarity of having written copies. This list detailed all the things my dad wanted to do or dreamed to do to transform our home into what he knew it could be. It was a vision, a goal of what our home could be like that we all patiently worked toward year after year.
Motivated by his vision, we planted hundreds of trees (and hand-watered them for years until he got drip irrigation!), cleaned out the pasture, repaired the fences, replanted and sodded the lawn, painted the house (inside and out), remodeled the bathrooms and kitchens…”the List” goes on. Even today, my dad still has more he wants to do, dedicatedly continuing the process of transformation to make his home something wonderful. From those first days, he saw what could be in our little home…and he had the patience to take years to make it a reality.
If only we had so much patience for ourselves…for one another. When it comes to our own growth or the growth of people around us as believers, we tend to have less patience. It’s almost as though we view God as this angry, ominous figure, either sitting off in the distance looking down at us with disappointment, or looming over us, ready to send his cosmic fist down through the atmosphere to pile-drive us into oblivion. We tend to view Him as only a “righteous judge”, keeping tally of how well we are avoiding (or at least hiding) our sin and being “good Christians.”
You may protest, that you know God doesn’t judge us by our sins but by the love of Jesus, who died and rose from the dead. I won’t argue that you know it, but rather…that we so often effectively live as though God is angry with us or about to be. We look at suffering in our life, or in our world, and we say, “God is punishing us.”
But in the end of Luke 13:1-9, Jesus tells an entirely different narrative about who God is. In this parable, God the Father is the owner of the garden, we are the tree, and Jesus is the gardener. Like the tree, we are nurtured in the shelter of God’s garden. Yes, there are storms in our lives, just like weather can come to a garden, but unlike wild trees, gardened trees are nurtured and giving nutrients to make it easier for them to grow. They are protected from people who might try to cut them down. The gardener and owner pay attention to the needs of the tree of a garden.
Now this particular tree (a fig) is three years old by the time the owner of the garden is frustrated that, after years of work and gentle care, the tree still shows no sign of the care it has received in fruit on its branches. Not even a single fig! It should be noted most fig trees begin fruiting in their second year, so the owner has already given this tree an extra year to fruit when he goes to the gardener to cut it down. Even then, the tree receives even more patience, for the gardener (like Jesus for us), intervenes with the owner to give the slow-growing fig tree another year. Not only that, he promises to give the fig tree even MORE attentive care to try and bring it to fruit. And fig trees need a lot of care. If they grow too fast, they can also split, killing the tree.
We do not have an angry God-in-the-sky looking down at us, disappointed we aren’t better people, punishing us for failing to live up to perfection. We have a patient God, who spends each day with us, eager to see us grow and bear fruit and willing to do the work to help us get there. Yes, He wants our lives to reflect the loving, caring relationship He has with us. He wants our lives to show the fruit of knowing Him, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22&23). But this fruit doesn’t come from us “being perfect” to avoid God’s wrath. This fruit comes from a God who comes “again and again to see if there [is] any fruit” and gives us “special attention and plenty of fertilizer”. In other words, transformation is a gift we receive as we know and walk with the Master of the Garden, the Savior of our souls.
- Look at Galatians 5:22&23. Have you ever tried to be more of one of these characteristics? How successful were you?
- Have you ever wondered if God is punishing you for something you’ve done wrong? How did that impact your relationship with God?
- If a changed life comes from increasing intimacy with Jesus, where do you think you could make more time to connect with Jesus in your daily life?
- Challenge for the week: whenever you get in the car to go somewhere this week, spend part of the drive talking to Jesus as though you were talking to your best friend about what’s going on in your life.