Chewing on Figs

Okay, I’ve been chewing long enough. Three posts have been written and deleted so this is my last ditch effort to make sense of this parable. Another good way to gain understanding when studying Bible passages is to look at the story from the different characters’ point of view. So, here goes.

The owner of the vineyard: God owns the vineyard and He can plant whatever He wants on His property. In fact, He appreciates a little variety and makes room in His field for a totally different plant. He provides all that’s necessary to promote growth and maturity. He checks in regularly to see how it’s going. He watches and waits for fruit, but is patient and willing to give it a reasonable amount of time. When no fruit appears, He allows the vinedresser to give the tree extra attention. But the warning is given: it there’s no fruit, cut it down.

The vinedresser: He is the keeper of the vineyard, not an orchard specialist. Even so, he bargains for time with the owner in hopes of bringing about a harvest. The vinedresser may be a pastor, teacher or spiritual leader. He is willing to put in overtime to tend to this beautiful but barren member. He pleads for the life of the plant before the Owner. His plan is to fertilize by offering another Bible study, planning another retreat, praying harder for another year. Although it is frustrating to let this tree absorb all the nutrients out of the soil, he continues working to get the desired result.

The grape vines: It’s a stretch to consider the vines as “characters”, but humor me. The vines are the producers, the ones actually accomplishing what they were meant to do; the ones you can count on year after year, the faithful bearers. They are probably not happy that a tree is leeching all the nutrients out of the ground, soaking up all their minerals. However, they refuse to produce sour grapes because they desire to please the Owner. Even though their vines are scraggly compared to the tree trunk and their leaves are not as profuse and lush as the tree, they are content to know the will of the Owner and fulfill His purpose for them.

The fig tree: From its earliest days as a sapling, the tree has been given the very best of everything. It has gown up in a safe environment with all the opportunities a fig tree could want. All its needs have been generously met and it has had a good life in the vineyard. From a distance, the tree looks to be healthy and strong.  However, when the Owner looks deeply into its showy leaves and sees there is no fruit, he is deeply disappointed. A stay of execution is given, but at some point, if the tree remains fruitless, it will become firewood.

The man with the baseball bat: (not in the Bible story, but in the video)  Sometimes the conditions are just too good for a tree’s own good. Hopefully, the man with the bat will come alongside this tree and give it six to eight good whacks to get it thinking. It usually works for me.

Fruit is the point. Fruit is the purpose. And that’s all I have to say about fig trees.

Camping Under a Fig Tree

There are many ways to create interest and inject life into daily Bible reading. Here are two of my favorites: asking questions of the text, and googling.

Parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'” Luke 13:6-9

First question: Why did the man plant a fig tree in his vineyard? A vineyard is a place for growing grapes, not figs. A tree takes up lots of room. I googled “How to Grow a Fig Tree”, and a gardening site said a fig tree needs 10 feet on all sides cleared. That’s a lot of grape vines. The man must have really wanted some figs.

Second question: Were the man’s expectations realistic? He’d been waiting three years to eat a fig. I googled “Fig Production”, and a fruit tree site said typically a fig tree produces fruit in two years, so it seems reasonable to be looking for something to sink his teeth into by this time.

Third question: Why wasn’t the tree producing any fruit? A vineyard is a carefully cultivated and fertile spot, enriched with all the nutrients it needs to bear a crop. Here’s where it gets good. I googled “How to Make a Tree Bear Fruit” and a video held the secret. According to the expert, trees that don’t produce fruit  just require some stimulation to get in reproductive mode. “What the tree needs is to feel threatened,” said the expert, (I’m not kidding) “and the tree will think, ‘Uh oh, I’m going to die, so I’d better produce some fruit.'” At this point in the video, the expert picks up a baseball bat and instructs us to “whack it upside the trunk a few times, six or eight times.” After the whacking is demonstrated he assures us that “now the tree knows it is under attack and that’s ok because that will stimulate the production of flowers and fruit next year.”

The man with the baseball bat set me to thinking…

What is the lesson here? Chew on it awhile. What do you think?