There are almost 400 references to trees in Scripture, many of them producing great bunches of food for thought – from the Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden (Gen. 2:9) to the fertile Tree of the Cross (Gal. 3:13).
One notable tree reference made by Jesus himself is found in the Parable of the Fig Tree. It is a short and striking story that – in the tradition of the parables – is both arresting and comforting:
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 gardener, “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 round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (Lk. 13:6-9).
The urgent message of Jesus found throughout the Gospels should kick us into gear – to realize that bearing fruit isn’t something to put off to another day, or another month, or another year. He has expectations of us – really, really high ones – and the time to begin fulfilling them is right now. Love my enemy? Now. Stop murdering in my heart? Now. Take care of someone forgotten by the world? Now. Willingly carry my cross? Right now.
But dare we hope that if we fall short, if our buds, flowers and fruits fail another year, that the Gardener may once more advocate on our behalf – and fertilize again – and that the Owner of the Orchard will again wait patiently? From the heart of God, we learn the lesson of the fig tree. The patience he requires us to have for one another, he requires of himself; the growth he demands is cultivated in the vineyard of his merciful love.