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Fig Trees and Relationships - Lessons of Harvest

If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.

~Luke 13:9

When I used to volunteer regularly as a youth leader in my local church, one of my favorite outings to do with the girls in my small group was to go to a local Apple Orchard. We’d pick a cool, crisp, fall Saturday, drive just outside of the Minneapolis metro area, and join the crowds fleeing the city for a breath of fresh country air and a grand country adventure. Most of the time we would also explore the pumpkin patch, the corn maze, and, of course, sample some tasty treats!

Part of responsible management of an apple orchard is the regular planting of new trees and cutting down of old trees. Various things can happen to any tree leading to it being cut down. A fruit tree could no longer be producing fruit. A tree might be infested with some sort of bug or affected by a disease, either of which could spread to neighboring trees causing them to die as well. In fact, at IOLBC, we are facing dealing with something called “Oak Blight” which is slowly killing many of our trees so are forced to watch the spread of tree disease each year. So beyond the hazard dead trees pose the people and buildings they may fall upon, they also pose a hazard to their fellow trees, making cutting them down the responsible thing to do.

The apple orchards we visited always had a section which was filled with new trees, young trees which had obviously just been planted for their first season. They were often roped off so the many passers-by did not trample down the soil around the roots still trying to establish themselves in the land. You could see the extra care being taken in watering these new trees to be sure the heat of summer wasn’t too much for them. And you could see where a section of trees was struggling and would likely be gone before the next season. These sections often had a few trees which were losing their leaves earlier than the rest and you could tell where a handful of trees had already been cut out.

Luke 13 contains an interesting parable about a Fig tree which has ceased to produce figs. In that day, fig trees were often planted in the odd corners of vineyards. Doing this allowed the owner of the land to maximize its use and potential for profitability. But in verse 6, the owner of a vineyard has noted that a particular tree has ceased to produce any figs and, in fact, has not produced a single fig for three years. He wants it cut away. But the caretaker of the vineyard asks the owner to give the tree one more chance. He will give the tree some special attention and if the tree does not produce fruit in the next year, then it will be cut down. The implication is that the owner will then be able to plant a tree which produces fruit to once again maximize the potential profit of his land.

This short parable in Luke spoke volumes to the people who first heard it and still has lots to teach us still today. A big thing to understand is the location of the tree. It was in a vineyard. Vineyard’s are for crops which grow in vines, specifically in this example, grapes that would be used to make wine, one of the few reliable safe and clean liquids available to drink before

the days of water filters, purifiers, and safe, tested wells. With such an important crop being grown in them, vineyards were found where the best growing conditions of the region were: the best soil, the best light, the best chance for rain, the easiest access to water to irrigate if needed. Owners of vineyards didn’t give up space for other plants easily. But unless your farm was perfectly flat and perfectly square, there were going to be corners the vines could not fit into well. And so fruit bearing trees were planted in these corners.

It would be like randomly getting tickets front row center for your favorite concert but choosing to surf the web on your phone instead of the concert. Or being the only person on your flight to get a free upgrade to first class where you are the only passenger and not stretching your legs out. Or winning the lottery and burying all the money in a coffee can in the back yard. The fig tree has no reason to not be doing well. And yet, for three years, it has not produced any fruit. And so, it’s time for this tree to be cut down. It has had its chance.

I’ve had some fig trees in my life. I’m betting you have as well. Relationships which once were fruitful and brought so much joy and light into your life and now have taken a turn in a different direction and are no longer the same. Perhaps you have just hit a hard spot, a season in life where one or both of you are not able to tend to the relationship and keep it healthy and vibrant. Perhaps, with a little tending, it will be as life-giving as it once was. This is the hope the caretaker has for the fig tree and so pleads that it might be given one more year, a year filled with extra tending. He isn’t ready to give up just yet.

I have been able to salvage some fig tree relationships in my life, and others I have had to let go. Those I have been able to salvage bring a smile to my face and I cherish them all the more because of the storms they have weathered. And they remind me of how many times Jesus has likely pleaded on my behalf when I only seem to be making mistake after mistake after mistake. I’m so grateful he, like the caretaker of the vineyard, intercedes for me, for you, for all of us. “One more chance,” I can almost hear him plead with the Father, “she is so close, just give her one more chance.”

He says that about you as well. All the time. He gives us the church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, as the soil in which to grow. We live in a time where resources abound to help us deepen our understanding of his love. And every day there is a chance for you to show His love to at least one person in the world, to be fruitful. Maybe it’s a big thing, most likely it’s a small thing, but most importantly, let it be the thing God has called you to do today. Take advantage of being given yet another chance.

Follow Up

1.Read the entire parable of the Fig Tree found in Luke 13:6-9. Put yourself in the place of the caretaker. What do you feel? How would you react? Read it again and now put yourself in the place of the owner. What are you feeling? Are you thinking it’s a good idea or a poor idea to give the tree another year? Why?

2.Who is a “fig tree” in your life? Take the time to really pray over that relationship. Seek out wise counsel regarding that relationship. It’s always a great thing when the relationship can be restored being fruitful for all involved. But, as we see in this parable, it is appropriate to end something which has the potential to grow into something harmful. What is God calling you do in your specific circumstances?

3. You don’t have to save the world to be fruitful. The owner wasn’t upset because the fig tree wasn’t producing apples or oranges. He was upset because it wasn’t producing what it was designed to produce: figs. So how are you designed to be fruitful? Maybe you are called to help the single mother down the street. Or maybe you are called to sit with the shut in who gets fewer and fewer visitors. Or perhaps you are called to work with the teenagers at your church. Do what you are called and gifted at doing, no matter how small it may seem, and be amazed at how much God is able to use you in your corner of the world as you are faithful to answer His calling in your life.

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