by Reverend Amanda
One of my aunts has a natural green thumb when it comes to plantings in her lawn. She knows just what to do to get a plant to grow. She knows the perfect placement for a plant in the yard based on what the sunlight needs are. She knows how to nurse a plant back to health or when it is time to give up on a plant because it has in-fact died. She knows all the little tricks to protect her plants from wildlife. I very distinctly remember her lawn when I was growing up and it was spectacular to see. I am not so abled with plantings. I know how to get certainly plants to grow beautiful like gladiolas, tulips, hyacinths, and at times trees. But when it comes to potted plants, no matter what I do they will most likely die. I’m not sure if I just over water them, give up on them too soon, or neglect them too long. Today’s teachings on the fig tree pique my interest especially since it compares our relationship with God to growing and caring for plants.
In my years teaching about the Bible, I have had several people comment on the prevalence of farming themes in Jesus’ teachings and parables. These individuals are astute in their observations. Jesus chooses these images because they would have been familiar to most of the people that he taught. Many of the individuals he reached out to would have been familiar with farming and the growth of plants. People in general in the ancient world were much more connected with the natural environment around them than we are. They would have understood all of the analogies. And understood that in the story of the fig tree, there was good reason why the vineyard owner would be upset that this fig tree wasn’t producing after multiple years. It would mean that it was an unhealthy plant.
Today, I draw your attention to the fact that the vineyard worker was not so eager to give up hope for the tree but rather worked hard to convince the owner to give the tree some more time while he gave it nutrients and tried to coax it to fruitfulness. This is the same thing that Christ was doing for the people of Israel and by extension does for us. Jesus is like that worker in the field never quite ready to give up hope on us when we are not fruitful in this world or in the work of God. Jesus lovingly seeks to provide for us all that we need through teachings and forgiveness to bring us into the fold, to bring us back into relationship with God. God longs for all of us to be in relationship with him and to give all that we have to his work and his love for humanity just as a fruit tree will give all it has each season yet remains fruitful long after the original owners have passed. There is no limit on giving love. We will not run out of love. We will not die from what we give to others, if we do so because of our love for God. Kamand Kojouri writes, “Think the tree that bear nutrition: though the fruits are picked, the plant maintains fruition. So, give all the love you have. Do not hold any in reserve. What is given is not lost, it shall return”.1
We may not all be as talented and loving when it comes to plants and growing things. But every single one of us has the capacity to be infinitely loving, compassionate, and to care for others as Christ has cared for us. Just as Jesus does not give up on us when we are not fruitful, when we do not live up to expectations, we are called to act in love and not give up on others, though we may want to. It means that instead we act more compassionately, more lovingly, to be the ones to provide the right nutrients that might one day bring that person into right relationship with God, self, and others. It is easy to give up and walk away from those who do not live up to expectations. The harder thing to do is to invest ourselves, to roll up our sleeves, and throw more tenderness at those people. But this is exactly what Jesus did for the people of Israel, this is exactly what he does for us, and this is what we as Christians are called to emulate in our lives. In Lent we are often called to reflect upon all those slights, hurts, and pains in our lives. We are called to reflect on those times when we just want to give up. We are then called to first act with care, with warmth, and with benevolence. In the process, that love will build us up, recharging our batteries, helping us come to moments of healing and strength. It will bring us closer to others and in the process, it will bind us closer to God. So, as you reflect this week upon what it truly means to live into the love of Christ remember the poetic verses from the Psalms this morning, “Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee”.2 And find a new way to praise God for his love through the care and compassion that we live into in our interactions in a world that so often frustrates us.
1 Kamand Kojouri, 21st century doctoral student and teacher in Wales, England.
2 Psalm 63:3, RSV