Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Planting Fig Trees

In the house that I owned in North Carolina, we had this giant fig tree. I’m not going to lie to you, it may have been the one thing that sold us on the house. I love fresh figs, so this opportunity to get it whenever I want it—that was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

And boy, did that thing produce. I mean, more figs than you can ever imagine. The problem was that they came into season at one time, like one week out of the year, so it was a race between me and the bees to see who could get to the fruit first. And then of course, there’s the question of what to do with all that fruit…because if you’ve ever seen a fresh fig, you know that they’re a little delicate—difficult to store—won’t last for very long.

So when I moved here, I wanted to have that same luxury. And I planted a fig tree right away. Well, I don’t know if you remember that hard freeze from a couple winters back—yeah, it got to that tree. It survived, but it’s about two feet tall. Those leaves which are very large and lush—they’re about this big. And fruit, yeah…no.

The time has come, to be like the farmer perhaps. “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?”

Rouses has fig trees on sale for $20. Maybe I’ll have a better luck then?

Gardening, tree raising, fruit growing whether it’s in your backyard or on some vineyard—it’s hard work, it can be frustrating. I was lucky with that first tree, but then again, that tree was planted a long time before I got there.

Jesus is using this metaphor, this image to compare it to the fruits that we ourselves produce. We sometimes talk about the fruits of the spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That comes from scripture in one of the letters from Paul. John the Baptist talks about bearing fruits “worthy of repentance.” There is a whole lot to this idea of bearing fruit—cultivating our lives in a way that produces positive results from ourselves and those around us.

Are we the first of my backyard fig trees—overflowing with goodness, overproducing those fruits? Or are we more like the poor pitiful one in my yard right now, spindly, small, bare?

We are in a time in our church year where we think about these types of things. What are we producing, are our efforts to produce better selves, better community, better world—are they coming to bear? And if not, what can we do to change things.

What is holding you back from bearing those fruits? Are you holding a grudge? Do have some bad habits? Is there a prejudice that you just can’t seem to shake?

Think about the story we just heard. The first farmer is ready to axe the tree. Pull it down—it’s not going to give us anything good.

But the gardener pleads with the man—just let me try one more year. Let me fertilize and prune it. Give me a chance. Let’s just see if we can’t make this thing work.

We don’t know what happened in the end, though. We don’t know if that tree ever actually produced anything. But that’s not really the point. You see, we’re always doing this. Always wondering if we should wait something out or opt for some radical change. We’re in these times of self-reflection and we prune and dig and fertilize, even if we don’t get to see the end result.

It can be really frustrating to try to bear these fruits. It takes self-control and care, self-reflection is not always so pleasant. It’s easy to just walk away, throw up our hands or chop it all down.

“I’m not good enough. I’m not a good enough person. I’m just hopeless!”

But then, there’s the gardener. Jesus is that gardener for us. The one that takes the whole thing in and says, just give it a little more time. Just give it a chance. Water, soil, patience and kindness and love. Take the time for care.

You know what? I don’t think the gardener ever chopped the tree down. I think that even if the following year, the tree was just as barren as before—I think he said, we’ll try it again. Let me dig around it and put some fertilizer on it. Let’s give it one more year.

And, you know…I think the next year, he probably did the same thing. And again and again and again. Not because he’s foolish or crazy but because that’s just what Jesus does. Always giving us a second chance. Always finding ways to get those fruits. Even if its just one, tiny bud of a fruit.

That’s the life giving, death-defying thing that Jesus does. Nobody get’s chopped down. Nobody gets abandoned or left to wither. He will always come back to us to nourish and feed us, to care and nurture us, to bring us back to life when we need it the most.

So take a hard look at yourselves. Are you bearing the fruits—the fruits worthy of repentance. If you’re not, what can you do to change that. What can you do right now, and what will take a season?

Because in the end, we can all be like that fig tree in my backyard—bursting with fruit, full of life, overflowing with abundance.