Third Sunday in Lent - March 20, 2022
By Rev. Doug Cue,
Conference Superintendent, Golden Valley District
Yeah…that’s me, the owner of the vineyard. I am the guy walking around the garden with a chain saw. I’ve got a simple one word solution for fruitless fig trees….
"Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
Fig trees exist for one reason…to produce figs…period.
I’ve got to admit…sometimes the gardener (the person taking care of the vineyard) just doesn’t seem to have a clue. What good is a fruitless fig tree? Despite all the visible evidence to the contrary, this gardener sees the trees possibility…so much so, that the gardener rolls up their sleeves, gets down and dirty with a shovel, a wheelbarrow, and “fertilizer”…and starts filling it in around the base of the tree. Really? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just use the chain saw and get a new fig tree? I suppose so…until I realize that this story is not about fig tree fruit – it’s about the fig tree’s root.
As this passage begins, it is concerned not with fig trees, but with tragedies. The text reports two specific tragic events…some Galileans were killed by Pilate when they came to Jerusalem to make sacrifices, and a tower in Siloam fell on and killed eighteen people. The assumption is that they had it coming. God must be punishing them for something we don’t know about. But Jesus stops this thinking in its tracks. “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” The issue is not lack of fruit. The issue is not what happens to us. The issue is what happens in us. The issue is care and connection to the root. “…unless you repent, you too will all perish.”…and he shares a parable about a fig tree that produces no fruit.
To be called to repentance is not simply to turn our back on that which would lead us to a “fruitless” condition…repentance is to actively orient ourselves toward the One who loves the tree, has hope for the tree, and who would do whatever was necessary to save that tree. At the resurrection, do you all remember who Mary mistook Jesus for on Easter morning? It was the gardener. Repentance is about the root…not the fruit. It is about moving toward and returning to the Gardener…to God.
I do believe it’s time I gave up my chain saw. I think I’ll trade it in for a shovel, a wheelbarrow, and some fertilizer.