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 you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
That’s it. Here we are. This is the last day of 2014. It seems that just a little while ago we already had a new year service, and here it is again. We are one more year closer to the Kingdom of God.
Many people use this time to reflect upon the year gone and to make pledges and plans for the year to come. We look back and see what has happen during this year, make our evaluations; where we have succeeded, where we have failed.
This parable which we have for our today’s meditation also is about evaluation. About an owner of a vineyard who comes to see whether there are fruits on his fig tree or not. And what He sees disappoints him and makes him angry.
He has planted this tree already a while ago. He did it with one particular purpose. You know what it is. Why do we plant fruit trees? To bear fruit, yes, to bear fruit. That’s their purpose.
Now, this man had been looking for the fruits already for three years. It doesn’t mean that the tree was only three years old. According to the Old Testament laws, an owner could look for fruit only beginning with a seventh year.
It means that this man had been taking care of this tree already for at least 9 years. Nine years and no fruit. Most of you, if not all, have gardens. What do you do with a tree that in sterile for nine years?
Sure, you cut it down, so that it doesn’t use up the ground. Would you agree that this is how every reasonable owner would deal with his property? Sure. But Jesus wasn’t talking about gardening. He was telling this parable to teach us something.
Who is this man in the parable? Who are these trees 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 bear good or bad fruits.
What Jesus is telling us in this parable – that not only we evaluate our lives, but our Creator also continually evaluates them. Are there fruits that He is looking for, or not? We may not like this idea that someone comes to evaluate our lives. We like to be independent, we like to be bosses over our lives.
But, in a sense we all know that we are accountable. Even those who are far from true God quite often would admit that they know that at the end of their lives they will have to give an account. How do they know it?
For we are creatures, created by God, created for specific purposes. Sure, many like to think that we are the centre of the world and that the world exists to satisfy our needs, but it is only because of lack of broader a perspective.
We are creatures, and we can say that for our Creator we are like an orchard, like trees, which He has planted, which He has cared for and from which He expects to receive some fruit. That’s why we are here.
The question is, what kind of fruit our Creator is looking for? What does He expect from us? We are created in God’s image and likeness. The image part means that we are created to be God’s stewards here on Earth, who receive everything from Him.
The likeness part means that we are supposed to act like God Creator Himself would act in relations to all creation – generously and self-sacrificially. This is our purpose. This has to be our fruit.
What does it mean very practically? Two things. First. Our Creator and Redeemer expects that we will trust Him and will love Him. That we’ll love Him. That we’ll be grateful for what He daily does for us, and will carefully listen to His voice for guidelines for our lives, as beloved children listen to their loving Father.
That we’ll seek His presence and will expect all good from Him and will run to Him in all our needs. This is the first and the most important thing that our Creator expects from us. To be in trusting relationship with Him as with our Father.
The second is this. Most of our roles in life, Luther called them vocations, are simply given to us. We don’t chose them. God gives them to us. We were born to our parents to be their children. We may have siblings.
We grow up and get married. Then we are spouses to our spouses. We are parents to our children. We are employers and employees. We are neighbours to our neighbours and friends to our friends.
In all these roles or vocations God expects us to bear our fruit. That is, to serve all these people in generous and self-sacrificial ways. Caring for their well-being, physical and spiritual.
This should be our fruit. This is what our Creator expects from us as His creatures. To be loving and generous in all these vocations. Being God’s hands, mouth and shoulders for all these people. Loving them as our Creator loves us and caring for them and He cares for us.
We all know how difficult this could be. Even our most important relationships are tainted by sin, by arguments, by distrust, by jealousy, by envy, by inability to forgive, by selfishness, by pride, and so on. We live in broken world and it could be very difficult to overcome this brokenness.
Now, what about God’s evaluation? If He comes, what kind of fruit will He find? How much have we produced? Have we lived in loving trust to our Father in heaven and carefully listening to His voice? Have we lived for others and not only ourselves?
Yes, there are many who can say that we have achieved this and that. We did it our way, relying and listening to ourselves, and see where it has brought us. But just think from the perspective of a gardener.
Does it matter if a tree is tall, or with a powerful trunk, of with beautiful leaves, if it doesn’t bear fruit. No, at the end none of these really matter. This is what we can see also in this parable.
At the end, after caring for the tree for at least nine years the owner comes and says ‘dug it out and throw it in fire’. That’s it, and this was a just decision to make. It could as well be our fate if the Creator came to us and looked of our fruit. However this is not how this parable ends.
Someone else steps it, a vinedresser. Who is this vinedresser in this parable? Sometimes people try to argue that the owner is God the Father, and the vinedresser in God the Son. That the Father would push for justice and the Son for mercy.
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. His justice requires just actions, – cut it down. His mercy pleads for the second chance – let me care for this tree a little more. May be then it will produce good fruits.
Let’s take a closer look to God’s mercy as revealed in this parable. We all are here only thanks to God’s grace. He planted us and He has cared for us up to this day. Every day, every minute we live from His grace. If only the Holy Spirit would give us eyes to see it, we should overflow with joy and gratitude.
In this parable the man was caring for the tree for 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.”
After nine fruitless years God’s mercy was still willing to continue on. Not just for one more year. No. ‘I’ll dig around it and put on manure. Then, hopefully then it should bear fruit in years to come.’
This is how God deals with us. When you are not producing fruits that your Creator expects, instead of turning you back, or cutting you down, your God gets even more involved with you. He comes even closer to you, trying to find a way how to change you.
He knows that only good tree can produce good fruits. He knows that, first, He has to make us into good trees, if He want us to produce good fruits. It is not enough to command a tree ‘bear a good fruit!’, it is necessary to make a tree good, and then it will produce good fruit…
Our God knows that we can’t change ourselves into good trees. We can’t change what we are. Whatever our new year plans are. We need someone to help us. Simply giving us more water and more light will not suffice. We’ll consume them and that’s it.
What we need is a new life. Not just a new year, but a new life. To be changed from within. We need to be born again, to be born as good trees. And we can’t do it on our own. To make it happen we need Jesus Christ.
Once the Holy Spirit reveals us that instead of cutting us down, Jesus, our merciful gardener, sacrificed His life for us, so that only we could be transformed into good trees, it changes everything. Your God gives up His live to save you, to give you a chance to become a good tree. This is what He does. For you.
When you experience this kind of love, when God, who could justly cut you down, instead gives up His live so that only you could be saved, it changes our hearts. Then His love gives us new life, new hearts, it literary makes us into new creatures.
Once we are made new there is a hope that we can produce the fruit that our God expects us. However, we still need to be fed. We need to be nourished and watered. This is why the Son of God comes to you in the Divine Service.
He speaks to you His love, He feeds you with His life giving words, and He shares with you His Holy Meal, the meal of forgiveness and immortality. This is where you are renewed and fed. This is where God Himself transforms you into a good tree.
This is where we end our year, at the Lord’s table. This is where we begin our year. In His presence. Under His loving care. May the Holy Spirit and Jesus love help you to live as good trees, listening to the Father and serving your neighbours in the midst of this brokenness. So that when our Loving Gardener comes to evaluate us He could say to you, ‘you good and fruitful tree, it was worth to keep you alive.’