And [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Let it alone for one more year, sir, while I hoe it and manure it. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9)
It being Lent, I am in a ‘penitential’ frame of mind – taking a ‘spiritual inventory’ of my life, and trying, with God’s help, to address areas of weakness and sin. This Parable of the Fig Tree has always had a certain poignancy to me.
There are many ways in which this parable has been interpreted over the centuries, but I’ve always tended to read it as though the fig tree is me, and my life. And I ask myself, have I borne fruit? When my Master comes to me, does He find the fruit that He’s looking for?
And I get a certain chuckle from the last couple verses. Loosely re-translated (call it the DJV – Desmond Jones Version), the vinedresser (the Holy Spirit?) says, “Let me whack on it and throw some shit on it, and see if it bears fruit.” And I get a wry smile at the metaphorical notion that our lives become more fruitful when we get some shit thrown on us. Maybe we get humbler, as the ‘shit’ that comes our way breaks down our pride. Maybe we finally begin to address some weakness or character flaw when the ‘shit’ that gets thrown at us makes it apparent. Mother Theresa said that ‘there is no spiritual growth without suffering’, and whether she had this parable in mind or not, this is essentially how I tend to understand her. Throwing some shit on my garden makes it more fruitful; is it possible that the ‘shit’ that gets thrown at me has an analogous effect on my spiritual life?
And, I look at the shit that’s come our way over the last few years, and I hope so. . .