Friday 1 March 2013

And I don't even like figs.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’  He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.  If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”  Luke 13:6-9, NRSV

I spent a great deal of time trying to come up with a little intro to what I wanted to address in the gospel this week.  You know, “a way in,” an anecdote or story that let’s me open up the idea in an interesting and relevant way.

I had a bunch, all of which took me to my main idea, but I finally gave up and decided to just cut to the chase.  Why?  Because I have no patience.

Which is exactly my point.

I know it’s “just an expression,” but it’s also fundamentally flawed.  I can’t have no patience.  Really.  Because I do have patience.  It’s always there.  And I do use it sometimes.  For some things.  A little selectively.  But it’s there, it really is, I just don’t use it as often as I should.

It’s possible that you don’t either.  I don’t know for sure and it’s not my job to tell you or anyone but myself.  But this is Lent, and as I said recently, this is an “I” time when it comes to examination, a time for self-discovery and reflection.  So I want to reflect on that and work on it a bit.

And what I’m reflecting on right now is how frequently I say “I don’t have the patience for that” like it’s a good reason to move on.  I think it isn’t.  I think it’s an excuse.

See, I think that one of the things the parable of the fig tree tells us is that it isn’t just about being patient waiting for growth, it isn’t just about caring, feeding and nurturing, it’s also about recognizing the presence of the seed in the first place.

The fig tree’s not dead, it needs time and care to produce fruit.  Apparently not a lot of care, though, as long as it’s in shade and you contain the roots and give it fertilizer.  Most online gardeners think figs trees are easy to care for, given the right climate.  
Maybe a better analogy for us, as human beings, might be apples.  Look it up - it seems like it’s a lot of complicated work to get a good eating apple.  (And we’re pretty complicated.)

But the point is that the potential is there to begin with, just as it is with us.  Great gifts are within us, gifts that may be brought to fruit and shared, gifts that may even be the source of nurture to others.  Gifts in abundance.

It can seem so easy for us to deny the strength of our nurturing gifts, gifts of love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, gifts of grace.  It is so easy for them to be stunted by lack of nurture.  It is even easy for them to be drowned out, buried under too much manure.  It’s a lot of work.

I think this little story reminds us that patience isn’t just necessary, it’s life-giving.  It’s about the potential and possibility of fulfillment.  Patience shouldn’t just be about waiting, it should be doing so supportively, with encouragement and graciousness.  With nurture.

Jesus leaves the story open ended.  He doesn’t say the tree flourished.  He doesn’t say that it was cut down.  I like to think the tree produced some fruit that year, but even if it did, it was only the beginning.  Perhaps the tree didn’t produce fruit, but the owner was encouraged by the efforts of the gardner to continue to be patient.  For as long as it takes.  Wouldn’t that be living truly in the image of God?