Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down. - Luke 13:9
The owner of the vineyard had planted a fig tree. The first year it did not bear any figs. He came back the second year, and again, no figs. The third year he comes by again, hoping to finally find a crop of delicious, sweet figs on the tree - and finds none! His patience with the tree is finally gone. He’s a grape grower, after all, and figs are not his regular crop. But still - he was really hoping to get some fruit from this tree. In frustration, he says to the gardener, “Cut it down. For three years I’ve come looking for figs and there are none. Why should I take up valuable land in my vineyard for a barren tree.”
But the gardener replies, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
Right before telling this story, Jesus had just reminded his listeners that bad things happen to people all the time. You never know when a tower may fall on you as you walk innocently down the street. He also reminds them that every day they have a fresh opportunity to turn their feel toward God and away from the things that keep them from God while they still have the chance. They have the choice, every day, to live their lives in such a way that if a tower should actually fall on them, they’d have no regrets about how they spent that day - or their life. In other words, Jesus tells them, “Repent before it’s too late!”
But then after giving this rather alarming warning, Jesus tells the story of the patient gardener, who is willing to give even a completely fruitless tree another whole year before cutting it down - giving it a little more compost, a little more water, a little more care, so that hopefully, in a year’s time, it’ll begin to produce the fruit the vineyard owner is expecting.
God is like that. God wants us to bear good fruit - fruit that will last. And God will prune any branch that does not bear such fruit. And yet, God also will support and nourish us to bear good fruit, even if that means making us endure a little more manure in life.
In Lent we work on repentance - on turning our feet back toward God and away from the things that keep us from God. And we also rest in God, who is always caring for us like a patient gardener.