We have two apple trees in our garden. Last year, both of them grew apples. This year, it’s different. One tree (on the right) has apples; the other (on the left) has none.
I’m no horticulturist, but I speculated over the summer about the reasons for the difference between the two trees. For a while I thought the tree on the left was just a bit behind the one on the right – say a month. I wondered if it had to do with the amount of sunlight; in winter the hedge means that the tree on the right gets more sun than the tree on the left. Whatever the reasons (and I hear it’s not been a good year for apples in our part of the world), we are in October and it doesn’t look good for the tree on the left.
It’s not a big deal for us. We are not apple producers and we don;t make our living from them! But what do you do with a fruitless fruit tree.
Jesus told a story about a fruitless fruit tree (in this case a fig tree) in Luke 13. I preached about this story yesterday in Dungannon Baptist Church where it was Harvest Sunday.
There was a fig tree in a vineyard. For three years the owner had found no figs. It was time to cut the tree out of the ground. Why should it use up the ground without producing any fruit? Or would one more year make a difference? The vinedresser suggested one more year. A bit of special care and take another look in 12 months.
The Old Testament prophets had sometimes couched God’s warnings to his people in vineyard analogies. Here was another warning, perhaps with specific reference to the nation’s leaders. Jesus had just spoken about the need for repentance – turning around a question that had been put to him about Galileans who had been slaughtered by Pilate while at worship. The nation needed to repent. The story about the fig tree was a call to make the most of one more opportunity.
Other parts of the New Testament talk about how the goodness of God leads to repentance (Romans) and how the patience of God gives extended opportunities for repentance (2 Peter). While Jesus’ warning was directed specifically to his own people who were squandering their God-given opportunity and failing to produce fruit, the principle applies: those to whom much is given will be held to greater account.
Nor is repentance (a radical rethink that reshapes the direction of life) just a matter for the start of the Christian life (as Luther said). All of us need to consider how much care the Vinedresser has invested in us, how much opportunity we have been given, and ask how much good fruit there is in our lives.
(Part of the harvest display at Dungannon Baptist Church).