And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
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Grace and peace to all of you from God our Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Here we are. The last day, the last service, the last hours of this year. One more year is gone. New Year’s Eve is a good time for reflections… on our lives, on things past, and things to come.
Also our today’s Gospel reading is really fitting for this purpose. To step back from everyday running and to try to look at bigger picture of our lives. Who are we and why are we here. These are the questions we’ll try to meditate upon in the light of today’s Gospel text. Who are we, and why are we here?
This parable from the gospel according Luke follows one of the harshest Jesus sayings in the New Testament. When Jesus was reported that Pilate had killed several men while they were offering their sacrifices, Jesus said these words.
„Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-3) Wow, not very comforting, right? And then Jesus told the parable we heard in today’s Gospel reading.
Let’s take a brief look at it. The parable speaks about the owner of the vineyard. About the fig tree and about the vinedresser. The owner of the vineyard had this fig tree planted. Of course, with the one purpose, so that the tree can bear fruit. Now He had been looking for the fruit already for quite a while and there was no fruit. His decision is just and reasonable. „Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”
Would you agree that this is how every reasonable owner would deal with his property? If there is a tree that doesn’t bear fruit, but only uses up the ground, then to protect a garden, or an orchard, this unfruitful tree has to be dug out. Right?
The question, of course, is – what is meant by this tree in this parable. In the Old Testament prophet Isaiah describes Israel as God’s vineyard. In the New Testament John the Baptist uses imagery on trees speaking about us, as does also Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount. He compares us, men with trees, with good trees and bad trees, who correspondingly bear good or bad fruits.
Remember, on Sunday we talked about two perspectives, ours, human, and divine perspective on things. From our perspective, we seem to be the centre of the universe. Everything revolves around us. At least this is what we can hear so often in our culture. Many has accepted these lies.
But there is also another perspective. We are God’s creation. His creatures. Created to fulfil our specific purposes. Similarly as fruit trees are planted to bear their fruit. That’s why this analogy of trees is so often used in the Scriptures. From the perspective of God Creator we are like trees, like His vineyard, and we are created for the specific purposes.
We are created in God’s image and likeness. Image part means that we are created to be God’s representatives here on Earth, likeness part means that we are supposed to act like God Creator Himself would act in relations to all creation.
We are created to be God’s representatives on earth, acting like He Himself would act in relations to all creation – in generous and self-sacrificial service. This is our purpose. This has to be our fruit.
If we are created for certain purpose, and there are certain fruits we are expected to bear, then our Creator will be looking for them. Right? There can’t be any doubt. In appointed time it will happen.
Biblical teaching on the second coming of Christ, and the final judgment is somewhat unpleasant to our ears. But this teaching is all over the Bible. In the Old Testament and in the New.
As soon as we look to things not from the perspective of our hyper-inflated Western individualism, but from the perspective of the Lord, as revealed in the Bible, it becomes so obvious that this is how things should happen.
He is the owner of the vineyard. We are His vineyard. He has planted us to bear certain fruit, and He rightly expects us to do so. If we are bad and unfruitful trees, then we had to be cut down, dug out and thrown into fire, to protect the vineyard.
Yes, but we can always try to justify our existence, for we have such achievements, and we do so many things, and there is so much activity going on. Let me ask this simple question. A tree is planted to bear fruit. Does is matter if tree grows very, very big, but doesn’t bear fruit? Does it matter if tree has such a beautiful leaves or blossoms, but doesn’t bear fruit? Does it matter if tree got such a strong trunk and deep roots, but doesn’t bear fruit?
All these trees may boast in their own eyes, they may look in mirror and adore their beauty and achievements, but from the perspective of the owner of the vineyard, they are only using up the ground. They are taking away goodness of the soil for their own purposes, but they don’t bear the fruit. Why, why would the owner keep them? Why? There is no reason whatsoever.
This is the picture we can get from this parable. We are trees, very valuable in our Creator’s eyes, but, ultimately, if we don’t fulfil our purpose, we’ll be dug out and thrown into fire, to protect His vineyard.
However, there is much more is this parable. We answered the question about the vineyard in the parable, – we are the vineyard. But then – who is the owner and who is the vinedresser?
Sometimes people have tried to explain that the owner is God the Father, and the vinedresser is Jesus, His Son. Then we would get disagreements between the Father and the Son. The Father would advocate for one kind of actions, the Son for others.
Much better, much more Biblical way to look to these two roles are accepting that these are two attributes of true God in tension. His justice, and His mercy. Justice requires just actions, mercy pleads for the second chance.
We already discussed that it is just and reasonable to dug out those trees that don’t bear fruit. Let’s look at what this parable tell about God’s mercy.
First, trees are planted. We are created. Trees are taken care of. We are sustained in all our daily needs. Daily. From day to day, from year to year. Our life and all the things necessary are provided for us from day to day. If only we could see them all!
We read that the owner said that this was already third year when He was looking for the fruit. According to the Old Testament laws, the owner could expect fruits, as first-fruits for the Lord only from the seventh year onwards. It means that this owner was already taking care of this tree for at least nine years. Nine years and no fruit. Dug it out, said His justice.
“No, please, wait,” said His mercy. “Let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit in years to come… well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
The Lord had taken care of this tree for nine years, and His mercy was still willing to continue on. God’s mercy didn’t say, let it just grow for one more year. No, listen carefully what He said. I’ll dig around it and put on manure. Then, hopefully then it should bear fruit in years to come.
When God take care of His vineyard, when He cares for us, it is not just letting things go as they are, it is Him getting closely involved with us, as loving father with His beloved children. Being with us, urging us to bear fruit. God knows that we can’t bear fruits on our own. We don’t have resources within us. We need to receive them from outside.
There is a little irony in saying that vinedresser will put some manure on the fig tree. He could suggest watering as the first option. Unfortunately we sometimes need to have same ‘manure’ happen to wake up and to begin to bear fruit. For we receive God’s watering abundantly every day. But when ‘manure’ happens, it sometimes makes us to stop and rethink our lives.
If even after all these efforts there are no fruits, even then God’s judgment is not immediate. God’s grace still postpones it to some uncertain time in future. However, it remains as inevitable reality that we all will encounter.
Back to the tree. Tree can’t bear fruits on its own. Tree doesn’t have resources to grow and to produce fruits within itself. It needs light, it needs water, it needs minerals from the soil, it may need manure, and so on.
It is the same with us. We don’t have resources within us to produce the fruits God Creator expects from us. He knows it. After the Fall we all are born as bad trees, and no one wants to bear good fruits. We all are born with this desire to use up the soil, that is, everything around us for our own benefit.
That’s why is not enough just to water us. For the more we receive the more we want to use for ourselves. What is required is to change us from bad trees to good trees. This is what Jesus life, death and resurrection is all about. This is the way God changes us from bad trees to good trees. Making us New Creation in Baptism. This is how He provides what is necessary for us to bear good fruits, according to His purpose.
It was not enough to give us more manure, what was required – was Jesus life. His blood shed so that we can be changed, so that learning about His sacrificial love our hearts could be renewed. We don’t have recourses within to produce good fruit. In Jesus God the Father provides them for us.
As with trees, also we need to receive what necessary all the time. That’s why the Father has established the Divine service. Here we receive water and light for our lives, that is, the word of God. Without it we wither. Here we receive the holy and precious body and blood of Jesus, so that together with it we could receive food for our faith and strength to bear good fruits, to live according Creator’s purpose.
We end this year at the Lord’s table, where He purifies us from all our sins. This food, which we are going to receive, cost Him His life. We begin this new year at the Lord’s table, and we pray that this Holy Meal helps us to appreciate both God’s justice, and also His infinite mercy, and gives us second chance enables us to strive to live according our purpose.