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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Meditation on the Fig Tree and Bearing Fruit

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The reading for Sunday, February 28, 2016:

Luke 13:1-9

In this week's Gospel, we get the parable of the fig tree, that poor fig tree who still hasn't produced fruit even though it's been 3 years. This Gospel gives us a space to consider our view of God and our view of ourselves.

Which vision of God is the one in your head? We could see God as the man who says, "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?" If we see God that way, and if we see ourselves as the fig tree, that's a scary proposition; we've got a few years to produce before God gives up on us.

A traditional approach to this parable might see God as the impatient one, and Jesus as the vinedresser who pleads the case for the poor little fig tree. I know that Trinitarian theology might lead us this direction, but I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of a God who gives up on humanity. Everything in Scripture--and the experiences of those who walked this path before us--shows us a God that pursues us, going so far as to take on human flesh and walk amongst us. This doesn't sound like a God that gives up after 3 years.

A modern (post-modern?) approach to this parable might be to see the man and the vinedresser as parts of the same personality. How often are you impatient with the parts of yourself that aren't changing quickly enough? Are you kind to yourself, like the vinedresser? Or does your inner voice threaten you with destruction if you don't change? I know that some of you are saying, "This sounds quite schizophrenic." To this comment, I would say, try to observe your own inner thoughts. I hope that you're always patient and kind, but I've been on a diet more than once, and I know how quickly the self-loathing voice comes forward.

This parable gives us a hopeful view of our spiritual lives, if we live with it a little longer. Many of us no longer interact with the earth in any way, which is a shame. I wonder how many aspects of this imagery we lose as we move from being a nation of farmers and gardeners to a nation of people trapped by pavement. We tend to think of plants as always growing, always producing. We forget that for any growth to take place, a period of fallowness is necessary.

Maybe you've felt yourself in a fallow place spiritually. Or worse, maybe you've felt yourself sliding backwards, a withering on the vine. Maybe you started Lent with a fire in your heart, and you've burned out early. Maybe you've spent years thinking about church development, wondering what the Pentecostals have that you don't. Maybe you haven't been good at transforming yourself into a peace-loving person.  Maybe you're more judgmental now than you were when you were your younger know-it-all self.

Look at that parable again. The fig tree doesn't just sit there while everyone gathers around, waiting for something to happen. The vine dresser gives it extra attention. The vine dresser digs around it to give the roots room to grow and gives it extra manure--ah, the magic of fertilizer!  We, too, can be the vinedresser to our spiritual lives. And we don't have to resort to heroic measures. We don't have to start off by running away to a religious commune. Just a little spiritual manure is all it takes.

You've got a wide variety of spiritual tools in your toolchest. Pick up your Bible. Read a little bit each day--to echo the words of Isaiah, train yourself to hunger after more than bread. Find some time to pray more. Find something that irritates you, and make that be your call to prayer; for example, every time I hear someone's thumping car stereo, I could see that as a tolling bell, calling me to pray.

If you can do nothing else, slow down and breathe three deep breaths. Do that at least once a day. Turn your anxieties over to God. When you're surfing the web, go to a site or a blog that makes you feel enriched as a Christian as opposed to all those sites that make you angry or anxious. Give some spare change to those people who stand in the medians of the roadways. Smile more--you are the light of the world, after all.

Time to start acting like it.

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