The Parable of the Barren Fig TreeLuke 13:6-9 (NRSVUE)
Then he told this parable: “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 man working the vineyard, ‘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?’ He 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.’ ”
Friends, every one of Jesus’ parables, though they may sound like simple stories, is layered with information. Today’s parable of the barren fig tree can be heard and understood in many ways. The first theme that many hear is a call to repent or perish–to change the way that you are living your life or be cut off! In other words, “start taking your faith more seriously, or else!” Jesus was basically saying that the Jewish nation was spiritually dull and did not recognize that God was right there in their midst. Jesus was calling them out, telling them to stay connected to the vine and to bear much fruit, meaning to live faithful lives and do good works.
Fig trees are talked about throughout scripture. If you remember in the Old Testament, Adam and Eve looked for fig leaves to sew together to cover themselves. Figs and fig trees were symbols of security and prosperity for the Israelites. As we hear in the book of Deuteronomy, God promises faithful Israel “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey, a land where you will always have bread and where you will lack nothing.”
Trees themselves provide a framework in the Bible. Between the tree of life in Genesis that teaches us about good and evil, and the tree of life in Revelation that assures us that in heaven there is a tree that forever bears fruit so that we will never go hungry, we are taught over and over again how to live. And the answer is often like a tree: staying rooted in our faith as we reach our branches out into the world.
There are lots of directions that we could go with today’s parable, but we are going to concentrate on the verse that says, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.” I know you probably did not expect to talk about manure in church today, but the fact is, by digging around the tree and putting manure on it, the gardener was nurturing it, and our word of the day today, is “NURTURE.”
Now we take nurturing very seriously here in Oldtown, and that is why we encourage families to learn and grow together. And that doesn’t only mean biological families, but all of us a church family too! Here in Oldtown, we worship and work, pray and praise, sing, and share our gifts intergenerationally so that we can encourage, build up, support, and learn from one another because when we do that, we nurture one another.
To “nurture” means to care for and encourage the growth or development of something. Now there are lots of ways to nurture, and we can nurture different things. Today, we are going to hear two very different stories of nurturing, but they both include caring and encouraging growth or development, and they are both done out of a sense of utter love.
Folks, in today’s world, there are so many distractions and attractions available for our young people. Because of that, we have even changed the way we interact and serve families in Oldtown because we know how busy life can be. But numerous studies have shown that kids in Scouts generally do better in life. They do better in school, they are better employees, they do better socially, and they have stronger ties with friends and spouses. They make better decisions and are emotionally better prepared throughout their lives.
Now admittedly, no child joins Scouts to have their character developed. They join for fun, friendship, adventure, and to learn useful and interesting things. Character development just happens while they are doing all of that because they are being nurtured at the same time.
Friends, nurturing takes time, effort, and energy, but the rate of return is immeasurable! Whether we nurture a child, a pet, a plant, a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or a stranger, we make a difference in the world around us. And the truth is, it’s almost impossible to nurture another without being filled with love and encouragement yourself.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, look around to see who or what could use a little extra love and encouragement. And then take some time to care for them. The world that we live in is good at judging and bullying and breaking down, but it’s our job, as human beings and as people of faith, to help build it back up!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!