1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
The trustees had planted six oak trees around the parsonage where I grew up. The four in front and the one to the north of the house were thriving and vigorous. But the one in the back yard, on the west side of the house, did nothing. It was the one we wanted most. It would have shaded my parents’ bedroom in heat of the day. But year after year, it just sat there. It never really grew. We could not figure out why.
My father was a great lover of trees and had a hard time ever giving up on one of them. It was a farming community. We had a great deal of “soil enhancing animal byproducts” available to us. He quoted this parable of Jesus, and we began to dig around this poor tree. It was not long before we discovered the problem. The principal of the Lutheran school lived next door to us and the driveway to his house ran through backyard of our home. His house was significantly older. When they had built the new parsonage about 10 years before we arrived, they had moved the driveway to the west. But they had not taken up the old driveway, just covered it with about two feet of topsoil. The poor tree was growing on a thick layer of packed gravel. It could never get its roots deep into the soil. No wonder it never grew.
Having several sturdy sons, my father knew just what to do. I learned how to use a pickaxe that spring as we broke up the gravel all around that tree so its roots could go deep. It did, and in a year or two it was already showing signs of improvement. Jesus speaks of God’s patience today. The question is not why some people have terrible things happen to us. The real question is why it does not happen to all of us. The answer is in this little story of the man, the fig tree, and the gardener. While the fig surely deserves to be uprooted, God gives it another year. It is an occasion for us to rejoice. Our penitence has shown us that we have not met the master’s expectations. But Jesus knows what we need and lovingly tends us. He calls forth the righteousness which he has planted in our hearts and makes us fit and fruitful.