Everyone Needs Manure
But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you cancut it down.’
(Luke 13:8-9 NKJV)
The title of this devotional is an expression placed as a subtitle of my book "Il vignaiolo e il fico" (The Vinedresser and the Fig Tree) by which I expressed the need for every believer to find and receive, by becoming part of the Lord's vineyard, of the care necessary for spiritual growth and fructification. There is no person who does not need to feel cared for, surrounded by that attention capable of instilling serenity or at least making one aware that one is not alone. A cry for loneliness and help rises from so many believers (the various saplings in the Lord's field) forced most of the time to deal with a conduct of cutting back: when one does not see growth and contribution it can happen that one decides to give up and in some cases even to cut back. The parable in question tells me that the attitude of those involved in field responsibility must be quite different.
"Was it morning? Was it evening? It was a day long ago when the owner of a field went to his land in search of figs. In his field, an experienced vintner was taking care of the vineyard that probably occupied the bulk of the land. The owner, however, was not interested in grapes. His gaze went directly to the fig tree but, alas, there was no fruit-this was not the first time. Who knows how many times in three years his hopes for sweetness had been dashed by the sterility of the plant. "Enough! This is the last time I find no fruit", he heard himself shout. The winemaker rushed in worriedly. At the sight of the master, fearing for his work and the fate of the vineyard, he heard himself commanded instead, "Cut down the fig tree!" He is indeed employed in the vineyard, but he is in the master's employ: he cannot refuse. His heart, however, cannot see a plant die. What to do? First it is necessary for the master to change his mind. Then he intercedes for the tree to be spared, making himself available to tend it for a year. Yes, he asks the master for another year of patience. In that year he would climb it and fertilize it with manure (Luke 13:6-9).
Each of the parables proposed by the Lord holds possible implications and applications for our lives, if we allow the words to reveal His will to us. Luke writes that the crowd went to Jesus "to hear the word of God" (5:1), recognizing that behind the human words was a supernatural voice capable of speaking to the heart, transforming lives and producing miracles. Just read the sequel when Jesus, having gone up and sat in Simon's boat, "spoke" to the crowd and "finished speaking" ordered the weary fisherman to cast his nets on the right side of the boat. The experienced fisherman had so many reasons to desist but, after hearing "the word of God", he can only take action and see the unimaginable manifest. Returning to the vineyard, most of the meditations I have heard on this parable have focused on the fig tree and the fact that it does not bear fruit, making it a paradigm of a faith that does not manifest works worthy of Christianity. I suggest we take a different path that does not ignore the fig tree, but looks at it in relation to the vinedresser, making the latter the main object. I have always been drawn to the fig tree in the parable and the behavior of the vinedresser, recognizing the growing need for healthy manure to be spread on everyone.
With examples from daily life, Jesus offered teachings of absolute depth. Unlike other parables, the Gospel does not offer explanations, but ties the story to some news episodes that were the subject of questions to the Master: Pilate who had ordered the killing of people performing their religious sacrifices; the fall of the tower of Siloe under the rubble of which several dozen individuals had died. Chronicle episodes similar to those of today, where deaths by violent hand, tragedy or natural events are counted daily. In Judaic culture, it was believed that those who perished by violent death or accident were guilty before God and that the events were nothing more than the manifestation of divine justice or at any rate a consequence of sin, in the vein that "you reap what you sow": look at Job and the accusations of his friends. Jesus let them know that that conception was not true, advising them that their only real concern should be repentance, failing which they too would perish like those people: there is a death awaiting all those who do not repent and become aware of their condition.
To transfer this teaching, the Lord told of a fig tree placed in a vineyard entrusted to the wise care of a vinedresser. The fig tree in question was in its third year of not producing fruit; faced with this situation, the owner of the land asked the vinedresser to cut it down. The latter could have simply obeyed, obeying the master's decision and placing no qualms about the work done so far. Instead, moved to the depths, he proposed an alternative solution, thus stalling, "Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it". How much we have to learn from this heartfelt disposition.
Weekly Bible Reading
January 09, Genesis 23-24; Matthew 7
January 10, Genesis 25-26; Matthew 8:1-17
January 11, Genesis 27-28; Matthew 8:18-34
January 12, Genesis 29-30; Matthew 9:1-17
January 13, Genesis 31-32; Matthew 9:18-34
January 14, Genesis 33-35; Matthew 10:1-20
January 15, Genesis 36-38; Matthew 10:21-42