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Jesus and Figs

Scripture Reading | Luke 13:6-9

Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’ ” [1]

Reflections

Jesus tells this parable after a hearing news about some political turmoil and violence that accompanied it. Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, had killed a group of Galileans while they were offering sacrifices. There is historical evidence that bears witness to Pilate’s ongoing hostility toward the Jews that included plundering money from the temple and brutally crushing the riots that resulted. 

The tension was palpable as many Jews sought vindication through retaliation. However, Jesus seems to warn the people repeatedly that this response is misguided and will lead to destruction. 

His way seems counter-intuitive. 

His way is not about retribution.

His way is repentance … heart change. Anything else will only lead to your downfall. Jesus has this in view when he rides into Jerusalem:

41 As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. 42 He said, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. 44 They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.” [2]

So, Jesus tells those listening the parable of the fig tree. Scholars debate whether God is the owner of the vineyard and Jesus is the gardener or maybe Jesus is the owner. We don’t know for sure. Perhaps the three years is the term of his ministry. Again, we don’t know for sure. 

What seems clear, though, is that Israel is the fig tree (Hosea 9:10). Israel is not producing fruit and time is running out. Jesus had been calling the people to repentance but very few were heading the call. In Matthew 3:8, Jesus says, “Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.”[3]

In 70 AD, the fig tree is dug up. The Roman Emperor Titus besieged Jerusalem in response to an attempt by the Jews to revolt against their oppressors. The city was decimated. The temple was completely destroyed. The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that over a million Jews died.

Action

Once again, the rhythm of the season of lent brings us back to repentance.

It’s hard to read this parable without feeling the sense of urgency. Fig trees took three years to mature. If fruit was not being produced after three years, then it likely never would. But the gardener doesn’t give up. He gives more time. He is hopeful for change. There is a second chance.

I’m reminded of the call that begins the Lenten season. On Ash Wednesday we are invited to think about the brevity of life. “From dust you’ve come and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The way to life is through repentance. This is not a groveling self-loathing posture that beats ourselves up for our pitiful state of being. This is simply realizing that our natural orientation is toward selfishness, retribution, judging others, while we are blind to our own brokenness.

But there is hope. If we repent, recognizing our need for forgiveness, we find life. There is a sense of urgency. Life is too short to continue to live in patterns that only bring destruction to our lives. 

This is a serious thing.

Sit with this for a few minutes today. Turn this over in your heart this week. “23 The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [4]

Repent, believe, and receive his grace.

Prayer

PSALM 51

Have mercy on me, God, 
according to your faithful love! 
Wipe away my wrongdoings 
according to your great compassion! 

Wash me completely clean of my guilt; 
purify me from my sin! 

Because I know my wrongdoings, 
my sin is always right in front of me. 

I’ve sinned against you—you alone. 
I’ve committed evil in your sight. 
That’s why you are justified 
when you render your verdict, 
completely correct 
when you issue your judgment. 

Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin, 
from the moment my mother 
conceived me. 

And yes, you want truth 
in the most hidden places; 
you teach me wisdom 
in the most secret space.

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; 
wash me and I will be whiter than snow. 

Let me hear joy and celebration again; 
let the bones you crushed 
rejoice once more. 

Hide your face from my sins; 
wipe away all my guilty deeds! 

10 Create a clean heart for me, God; 
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! 

11 Please don’t throw me 
out of your presence; 
please don’t take your holy spirit 
away from me. 

12 Return the joy of your salvation to me 
and sustain me with a willing spirit. 

13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, 
and sinners will come back to you. 

14 Deliver me from violence, God, 
God of my salvation, 
so that my tongue can sing 
of your righteousness. 

15 Lord, open my lips, 
and my mouth 
will proclaim your praise. 

16 You don’t want sacrifices. 
If I gave an entirely burned offering, 
you wouldn’t be pleased. 

17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, 
that is broken and crushed. [5]


[1] Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Lk 13:6–9.

[2] Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Lk 19:41–44.

[3] Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Mt 3:8.

[4] Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Ro 6:23.

[5] Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Ps 51:1–17.

Reagan Waggoner - March 21, 2021

Jesus and Fruit

Scripture References: John 15:1-11

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