What’s at the root of this parable?
Parables take an ordinary life moment and twist it with unexpected details. It is this surprise element that catches the listener off guard, leaving them to pause and puzzle over what had at first seemed to be a simple, straightforward story.
Therefore, it helps to know something about the earthly subjects that parables feature. While topics like plant cultivation, vineyards, and harvest would have been common knowledge to the people of Jesus’ day. People of today, well…not so much.
If you’re like me, you know very little about fig trees.
But here’s what I learned after doing a little research:
Fig trees have a very aggressive root system.
These roots help the plant to be highly drought tolerant, allowing them to seek deep and far to find water.
Because of their extensive roots, fig trees can thrive in even poor, rocky soils.
Thanks to the vigorous roots, a fig tree can successfully grow on the side of a rocky cliff, or even spring forth from the cracks in an ancient city wall.
Now knowing this, the reader can’t help but wonder, “just what is this fig tree’s problem?”
3 years of prime growing time has passed and nothing. The vineyard owner is right to be disappointed. From everything we know about fig trees, this particular tree is an astounding failure. It‘s not that it has done something wrong. It’s that it has done nothing. It has borne no fruit. It is just taking up space.
This parable is offered up as an illustration after Jesus remarks to the crowd, “But unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” So, what does this have to do with repentance?
We often think to repent from the things that we have done. However, we are less likely to seek forgiveness and turn away from the things that we have left undone.
Our lack of fruit.
But as we ponder what that might mean for our own lives, we also need to keep in mind another strange thing about this parable…
The gardener steps in.
It is his hope that some pampering will encourage the desired results from the normally hardy tree. Digging around the tree will clear the way of obstacles so that the roots may extend with little to no effort. The manure will enrich the soil, giving the tree everything it needs to produce fruit.
The tree should not need any of this. The tree should be able to do it on its own. But because of the gardener, it won’t have to.