The Patient Gardener

Scripture     Luke 13:1-9


 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?

The gardener 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.”



This parable of the unfruitful fig tree offers yet another insight into the mystery of how God deals with his beloved human family.  If gardeners have patience with their fruit trees, and care for them with great diligence and skill, how much more will our Creator God have patience with us and desire our coming to full maturation in due season. God works within realistic expectations for fig trees that apparently need three years to mature and bear fruit.  So with Jerusalem, and with us, a ‘one more year’  extension is God’s offer of mercy and hope. The work of cultivation of the fig tree is an ongoing process and often involves the cooperation of many persons. 


What can barren fig trees tell us about the kingdom of God? Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the Jews. Bad figs or a decaying fig tree was linked with evil deeds and spiritual decay. The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel's unresponsiveness to the word of God. The prophets depicted the languishing fig tree as signifying the desolation and calamity of Israel due to her unfaithfulness to God. This parable of Jesus depicts the patience of God and the urgency of God for us to undergo a deep-rooted conversion. God gives us more time to change, to see things clearly, to heal from our woundedness, neediness and egocentricity so that true seeing the Divine Plan will be possible. The kingdom of God is here, is now. Amazingly and wonderfully, like a good gardener, God desires the flourishing of what God created and what God loves - us, his precious vineyard and fig trees!


“Repent or perish” can be understood as God’s gracious offer of extended opportunities for us to respond to the demands of the kingdom of God and allow that to reshape our lives.  We have a compassionate God who lets a barren fig tree stand another year.  Jesus seems to be saying that  a gardener's compassion and attentive care can reach into the depths of the soil and invigorate the plant's roots. So, all God's people, those hurting, and marginalized for any variety of reasons now have a Divine Gardener tending to them. Will the fig tree become fruitful in another year? God waits and longs for that to happen. Will I become fruitful? Will my life blossom into a harvest bringing God’s justice and peace for myself and others? 


This coming week we can invite the Divine Gardener to dig around the ‘roots’ of our inner beings, loosening the soil of our resistance and shame, and working in His mercy and nutrients of grace. The possibility of change is always available to us. Yes, here in the dark soil of our unconscious lies the root source of our unproductiveness and inability to mature and bear fruit. We are in need of God's grace and mercy and the gentle rains and fertilizer of hope.  Under his gracious care, we will hopefully  get to the bottom of any unproductive or damaging situation that might be manifesting in our lives. If we can see the “root” of the issue that causes a surface problem we are on the way to acceptance of the reality just as it is. The truth is exposed and we are awake to the pain hidden below the surface. We may have been able to hide it for awhile in disguise in some addiction, in a negative judging attitude, possibly even in our religious practices. But eventually we have to confront who we are and what we really believe in. We will need to acknowledge that there is no real fruitfulness in our lives. We cry out for the more!


It is a "repent or perish" critical hour of awakening.  Unless a conversion takes place we too will become like these barren fig trees: rootless, lifeless, giving nothing to others and we will feel weakened, numbed out, spiritually dead. A 'metanoia' does not mean moral uprightness, or expressions of penitence and regret, but rather a 180-degree turnaround. It quite literally means to “change your mind.” 



For Bernard Lonergan, SJ:  “Full Christian conversion has three important levels: intellectual conversion, moral conversion and religious conversion.”   R. Rohr, Naked Now, p.87

We must be willing to accept the consequences of the choices we make. And the good news of the gospel fig tree is that, in taking responsibility for our actions and seeking to heal from the hurt we have borne, we can again realize a harvest growing forth from out of our struggle. Transformation is realized from within the process of struggle. The gardener God is willing to put "some manure" - some fertilizer - some nurturing new rules and new affirmations into the soil to support the new directions we are inspired to pursue. "My grace will be with you and that is enough."


Carrying Grace     I will welcome the Divine Gardener's cultivation.  


#8 jar4 2010-03-14 00:28
"In the dark soil of the unconscious lies the root source of our unproductivenes s and inability to mature and bear fruit."

It fills me with gratitude to pause,again, and recall just how this awesome Gardener worked with my roots so many years ago.

#7 arletteh 2010-03-09 21:02
It is grace to have the "root" issue laid bare. It is an even greater grace to know and have emphasized in this lesson that our Gardener wants so ,so much for us to bear fruit.The gardener is FOR us .The deep healing that is happening is like basking in the sunshine of these days.The transformation is happening from within as we struggle to "live",and grow.Thank you to all companion "fig trees"!
#6 Mark Dickinson 2010-03-09 02:19
This is my prayer for Lent!
#5 Mark Dickinson 2010-03-09 02:19
.. but all of us!
#4 Mark Dickinson 2010-03-09 02:18
In the Hebrew Bible, the fig tree was a symbol of peace and prosperity. Barren trees, absent of the Gardener's love and care, therefore represent our failure as God's people to cultivate peace and prosperity (ie. healing) in the world. But the absence of care is not God's choice, it is ours. Two paths to follow .. one which grows figs, the other which doesn't. The true path is clear, it's our direction, however, that is often at fault.
As we open our lives to the Indwelling God, we ultimately join ourselves with the Gardener, allowing each of us to cultivate, and feed, fig trees of our own. Imagine a world full of peace and healing, without hunger and homelessness .. it is the Garden of Creation, fig trees in full blossom, the Kingdom alive in our midst .. the hope of our future, and the fullness of humanity expressed in the image of the Divine. It doesn't have to live as a dream ... it can happen in our lifetime if we seek to find unity with our Gardener. Not a few of us .. but all of us. This is my prayer for Lent.
#3 Betty Mellon 2010-03-08 17:44
Not too long ago I was like the barren fig tree. One wise soul recently revealed to me a truth which impacted me in a profound way. I took this to prayer when my eyes were opened to the lived reality about me and in me which I previously remained oblivious. Slowly the Divine Gardener tended to me with nurturing care and love. Now I embrace the kingdom of God as I entrust myself into the hands of the Divine Creator who is shaping me along the path unfolding towards fruitfulness like the fig tree in bloom with my lenten journey.
#2 arletteh 2010-03-07 00:44
P.S.--I like the title:"The Patient Gardener"!
#1 arletteh 2010-03-07 00:31
"My grace is sufficient for you."How it is needed for a critical time of conversion! And Lent seems to have more of those times.Thankfull y, we have a loving,skillful gardener!Diggin g around the roots brings air and light to them.Then pain can be seen and the gardener invited in to heal.To have the courage to confront the pain and sin and the patience for the patient to heal.To experience the healing,the new life and energy that has to be channeled proprely, gradually, perhaps,---I have always been attracted to the word"rooted"It speaks of real strength and authenticity and hope for continued growth.May we be healed, and rooted and planted in love!

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