Sermon Scribbles: Fig Trees


“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.” – Luke 13:8

So here’s the thing about the Bible, especially with regard to the Gospels. If a curious little detail is in there then we need to pay attention to it. Ancient writing was a costly endeavor. To make a long story short, the longer you made something you were writing the more costly it became. So, you simply didn’t add extras; you put in only what you needed. So, we’re back around again, if a curious little detail is in there then you can darn well bet it’s a good idea to start paying attention.

Jesus tells us that a man has a vineyard with a fig tree planted in it. Now that’s a curious little detail. He could have just said that a man had a fig tree and left it at that, but he didn’t, he included this curious little detail. So what do we make of this? Well, Robert Farrar Capon, one of my favorite faithfully imaginative interpreters of Scripture sees it this way. The man is in the business of vineyards. It’s work for him, the fig tree is a hobby. Hobby’s bring joy and pleasure and life. In this parable, suggests Capon, the vineyard owner is God the Father. What is the vineyard? Well, we don’t really know. But, the fig tree is all of creation. Creation itself, with us in it, exists for God’s pleasure and joy…now that’s just good theology!

Now, this little fig tree has gone awry. Sound like any particular creation you’re aware of? He orders that it be cut down. Powerful people are accustomed to having their word carried out. How much more so with God? His word is far more than his bond. When he speaks things happen; light shines, earth forms, birds fly. He has spoken, “see that tree? Don’t eat it or else.” Well, they ate of it and now God’s got a little conundrum…can I say God has a conundrum? He’s said that humanity must die for their transgression, but then he’s also a God whose loving and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 145:8).

Enter God the Son, the gardener in this little story. Isn’t the mystery of the Trinity grand! Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to try and explain the Trinity; simply bask thankfully in the presence of the Trinity. Jesus the gardener enters onto the seen, observes the awry and, for all intents and purposes, dead tree and replies, “let it alone.” It’s an interesting phrase, let it alone. In the Greek the phrase let it alone is the same Greek word that Jesus utters on the cross when he says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Hmm…Jesus the Gardener observes the awry and dead tree and says forgive and Jesus the Gardener/savior observes the awry and dead trees (us) of creation and says forgive…interesting! God the Father has given all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus. Jesus’ word will be the one that counts. If Jesus says death then death it will be; if he says life then life it will be. Jesus speaks life…but he goes one further, he smears that dead tree with something else that’s dead…manure. Heaping death upon death, in the mystery of Christ, brings about growth and life and fruitfulness. So Jesus’ death, smeared upon us dead trees brings the gifts of growth, life, and fruitfulness.
This parable is a lesson in what it means to live by grace alone. The tree has no chance. It doesn’t have a choice to produce or not produce, it’s dead to rights by the word of the vineyard owner; but that vineyard owner is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and brings in the gardener who speaks life and gives death for life. This is grace aplenty! Thanks to Robert Capon for the insights but thanks so much more so to Jesus for life and fruitfulness! Thank you Jesus!

If you’re interested in reading more from Robert Farrar Capon this is the book I was referencing:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s