Revisiting the Fig Tree
Cultivating the spiritual ground of our neighbor through the gift of faith
The underlying message of the Readings during this the 3rd Sunday of Lent is one in which we are warned of the dangers of spiritual complacency. In our efforts to live a life that is consistent with God's teachings, rarely does one ever stand still - if we are not moving forward, we are in fact moving backwards and therein lies the challenge we face as we too attempt to walk in Jesus' footsteps.
Whether it was God's swift and sudden appearance to Moses in the form of a burning bush with the order to lead his people out of Egypt, thus providing us with a literal and tangible example of moving forward to a "good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey" or Paul in the 2nd Reading where he warns the Corinthians that "whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" it's clear that change, constant introspection, and a general need to forever seek to alter and thus enhance the status quo is the order of the day.
Along those very lines, we encounter Jesus telling the people gathered with Him the parable of the Fig Tree in the Gospel (Luke 13:1-9). Jesus often spoke in parables, perhaps in an effort to make deep theological ideas easier to grasp for people of all intelligence levels or maybe because of the rich imagery and charismatic figures depicted, which made the stories and subsequent lessons far less forgettable.
Here is what He said:
"There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard and when he came in seach of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener "For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?". The gardener said in reply "Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down".
The traditional interpretation of this parable casts God in the role of the orchard owner, who upon growing impatient with the fruitless fig tree (symbolic of faithless "spiritually barren" humanity) instructs the Gardener to cut it down, essentially bringing the fig tree's futile existence to an abrupt end just as those who lead spirtually devoid lives will meet a similar demise and thus be denied the promise of paradise through eternal life. Jesus Christ, assuming the role of the Gardener, implores God to offer humanity one last chance, and that last chance was of course later to emerge in the form of Jesus, who upon humbling Himself to share in our humanity goes on to die for our sins and thus insure everlasitng life for those who believe and subsequently allow God to dwell within them.
It's a powerful story and it does in fact underscore a few of our fundamential core beliefs. For starters we are reminded that to whom much is given, much is expected and that the misuse (or non-use) of the many great gifts given to us by of God carries dire consequences. We are obliged to contribute our talents in support of a flourishing Catholic Community. And the clock is ticking.
And then there's Jesus, abundantly generous as always in offering us yet another shot at redemption, never once even referencing our shortcomings or our checkered pasts.
But what if we were to swap out the characters and re-visit this parable? What if we the faithful were cast in the role of the gardener, and through the grace of Jesus that dwells within us responded in precisely the same way?
Now that would be a Lenten promise worth making.
After all, it's our responsibilty to share the good news. If we were to encounter a friend or neighbor who was suffering through a crisis in faith or was simply devoid of the Spirit of God, couldn't we as disciples of Jesus attempt to provide them with the spiritual nourishment that Jesus has provided to us?
The stakes are too high not to.
So as we look to adhere to our pre-existing Lenten promises, it's not too late to add another task to our lists. By seeking out opportunities to share the faith, we give our fellow brothers and sisters the greatest gift imaginable, the Gift of God's Everlasting Kingdom.