I Shall Cultivate the Ground Around It

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells the parable it is easy for us to misunderstand – the parable of the person who had a fig tree in his orchard. Finding no fruit on the tree for the third year in a row, the owner instructs his gardener to cut the tree down. After all, “why exhaust the soil?” The gardener, however, asks the owner to refrain from destroying the tree, arguing that it is better to “cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it” for it “may bear fruit in the future.”

Those who favor a fire and brimstone Gospel message can easily come to the mistaken conclusion that it is God who demands that the tree be cut down. (Indeed, making that mistake was the reason I always had difficulty with this passage.) The reality, however, is that it is we who would be quick to cut the tree down, quick as we are to condemn others. We’re the ones like the owner – generally a lot better at demanding quick retribution than patience and forgiveness.

The God figure in Jesus’ parable, however, is not the owner, but the gardener. God has unending patience and constantly tries to “cultivate” and “fertilize” us – giving us numerous opportunities to “bear fruit.” God sees our potential even when no one else does and is willing to nurture us along, long after we, were we in God’s position, would give up.

God patiently withholds his judgment even when we ignore his calls, hoping that we will ultimately hear his call.

Understanding that reality ought to call forth two responses in us. The first is gratitude at God’s love and patience. The second is a desire to follow God’s model and offer each other the same patience and love we receive from God.