There is a story about a boy who loves to play with his friend next door under a tree at the back of their house. One day his dad informs him that he would cut down the tree because for three years no fruit has come from it. The little boy is hurt, and he shares the bad news with his friend next door, and they both cry.
Next day, he breaks his piggy bank and goes to buy a bushel of apples and with the help of his friend, he ties the apples on the tree. Next morning his father sees the tree with apples and calling on his wife he says, “honey I don’t know how this is possible; suddenly the barren tree has apples on it, and the most amazing thing is that it is an orange tree!” The little boy was trying to preserve his play station, namely, the tree.
A world without trees would be a disaster to human beings, animals, and the environment. The changes we are having in the world today are not unconnected with the increase in deforestation which involves the massive and often unnecessary cutting of trees. To explore the importance of trees here would take the entire space for this reflection. However, a concise presentation would help us to have a foreground.
Trees produce fruits, but that is a fraction of what we get from trees. In the process of manufacturing their food through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide (C02) in the environment and release oxygen (02) which humans and animals need to survive. Trees also protect the environment from wind, erosion, and also have aesthetic values.
We depend on trees for woods which we convert to firewood, charcoal, all kinds of papers, all forms of house fittings and furniture, boats, wine corks, and carvings. Tress also produce liquids for maple syrup, chewing gum, cosmetics, crayons, paints, and soap. Dye and some medicines also come from the bark of some trees.
In the Gospel today (Luke 13:1-9), our Lord Jesus Christ tells a parable about the barren fig tree. The owner of the fig tree comes searching for fruits on it over three years but found none, and he threatens to cut it down instead of taking allowing it to up the soil. However, the gardener begs the owner to give the tree one more year of intensive care and afterwards he can cut it if still bears no fruits.
Though Jesus did not give an immediate explanation of the parable, it is, however, it is clear that the tree represents all of us. Furthermore, Jesus Christ represents the gardener who not only advocates (1 John 2:1) and mediates (1 Tim. 2:5) for us but also nourishes us with the word of God and healing (Matt. 95-36), and with his body and blood (Matt. 26:26-29). Finally, the owner refers to God the father our creator.
The Barrenness Leading to Fruitlessness?
It is very worrisome to discover that for three years the fig tree was unable to bear fruits. The number “three” in biblical numerology refers to completeness. With regards to the fig tree, it got the full attention it needed with all the enabling nutrients. It is, therefore, crucial to know why the fig tree remained barren since it had all that is required.
The best way to discover what is happening to the tree is to examine its base and roots. The problem cannot be from the trunk, the branches, and the leaves but the roots. For the roots of a tree to derive nourishment from the soil, they are expected to be open and receptive to what the soil provides.
It is evident that we are like the fig tree in the vineyard of God the Father. Here, we have an able gardener; our Lord Jesus Christ who is constantly feeding us with the word of God and with his body and blood that nourish our souls. The challenge is our readiness to open our hearts to receive all that our Lord is offering and to use them for fruit bearing.
Moving Forward: Bearing the Lenten Fruit of Repentance
Among other things, the Lenten Season invites us to true repentance. The parable in the Gospel today sets out to show that God is giving us time to repent following the intervention of the gardener to allow the fig tree for one more year.
Earlier in the Gospel, some people approach Jesus to tell him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of the sacrifice. Responding to them, Jesus makes it clear that they are not greater sinners because of their tragic death nor are those who were killed by the tower at Siloam greater sinners. He concludes by saying to them “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Barrenness and the resultant fruitlessness are indications of sin. In the parable, our Lord is telling us to repent, or we risk elimination from the vineyard of the Lord. The Greek word in the narrative is “metanoia” which means a change of heart. God is, therefore, asking us to change our heart through an intense and conscious renewal of our roots not the decoration of the branches like the little boy did in our opening story to save the tree.
We need to return to God as the Israelites did after four hundred years of their slavery in Egypt, and God responded to them through Moses via the theophany of the Burning Bush as we saw in the First Reading (Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15). The Burning Bush shows the ever-present (I AM) burning love of God that is waiting for us this Lenten Season. Our responsorial Psalm says, “the Lord is kind and mercy.” Yes, He is waiting for us to turning back and become fruitful and productive.
The tree had one year to become productive; we have had years ahead of us to achieve our “metanoia” and come out from the slavery of sin. Now have a very fitting time to accomplish this and may we not allow it to elude us. God is interested in spiritual fruits not in barren religious trees. May we move from barrenness to essential fruitfulness to the glory of God and for our salvation. Amen. God bless you.