We have been gardening for years in our household. My family were gardeners and farmers for generations, keeping land for cultivation even when other vocations beckoned. We don't have any pictures of the clipper chips one great-grandfather sailed, but we do have a print depicting the family farmstead.
Hands dirty, fingernails crusted, calluses rough and the smell of earth. All blessings, and when coupled with the grace of watching things grow, bloom and come to fruit under the care offered? Wonderful, indeed.
I confess that my skill and attentions to gardening have waxed and waned. Some years, the garden didn't deliver on the efforts invested; and other years I have failed to do my part, allowing weeds and overgrowth to undo my initial, good intentions. So, when these pastoral parables are offered up by Jesus, my ear jump and my head tilts. I like to think that I somehow "get" these stories better than others. I know that is just hubris on my part, but I must confess that this story of the barren fig tree has me on the edge of my proverbial garden bench.
Speak, Lord, for your servant is really trying hard to listen....
The Gospel reading this week is a double-tined fork. One tine is the recounting of Jesus in conversation with people in the crowd. Folks were talking about a recent tragedy: a crowd of supplicants carrying their offerings for worship were attacked by a column of Roman soldiers under Pontius Pilate's command and slaughtered. Their blood mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. It was defilement AND scandal. Rome had not only suppressed a gathering of people, it had also persecuted the faithful of God. The unwritten and hidden question was, "What had they done to deserve such treatment at the hands of the Romans?"
Jesus drags that question out into the light. He asks if those folks who died were somehow sinners. If so, then what of those who died when the "tower at Siloam" fell? They were no worse or better than any other person there at the time. What matters? Repentance. Live or die, no matter the outcome we are called in the Kingdom of God to repentance, preparation and readiness for its arrival; an arrival for which we have no date certain.
NOW matters. He tells us that by the parable of the barren fig. A person plants a fig on their land. It bears no fruit in season. What to do? Cut it down and plant something else? The steward says no, wait. Let it be tended one more season. A trench will be dug, and the roots fertilized. It will be given water and care will be taken to provide the best and more favorable environment possible for it, by its nature, to bear good fruit. Paying attention to NOW, in each succeeding moment...being present to the tree, will allow it a chance to bloom and bear. One more year, please.
That is the kingdom work that Jesus is calling us to: to take NOW and make a difference. Dig, fertilize, water and tend and then, when the time is right, look for the harvest. If the tree is barren THEN, we are to deal with it as the land owner intended, but until we have made an effort we cannot know what might be, what could be.
So it is with us...live the moment given, humbly and repentant of sin. Live fully into the abundance give us by a loving God. Live and bear fruit that is worthy of the love being showered down on us. Take the NOW and make the most of it. Tomorrow will be here, soon enough.