And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9
In professional sports much is expected from a newly hired coach. Yet, it is often the case that if the newly hired coach doesn’t seem to have the team headed in a positive direction, in an upward trajectory, then the coach can lose their job almost as quickly as they gained it. The new coach doesn’t necessarily have to make the playoffs or win a championship in their first, second, or third year, but if the team doesn’t show any signs of improvement whatsoever within the first few years on the job, then the coach might get “axed,” and the organization looks to hire somebody else to fill the coaching position.
On the other hand, if a newly hired coach has their team showing signs of improvement, then the coach typically keeps their job.
Jesus expressed this same concept in terms of farming in “The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree.” His parable about a fig tree is all about our need for repentance and God’s merciful patience.
In the verse that comes immediately before this parable, Jesus says, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish!” Luke 13:5
Like a newly hired coach who risks being fired if his team shows no signs of improvement, a person who does not repent and begin to bear fruit (i.e. good works) in their life is in danger of perishing or being “axed.”
(“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance… Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” – John the Baptist in Matthew 3:8-10)
Like an organization that hires a new coach with the hopes that the new coach will be successful, God has given us life, and he hopes that we bear fruit, that we perform good deeds, that we love abundantly. If we fail to bear fruit, if we live selfishly having no output of love then we are like barren fig trees that are nothing more than a disappointment to the grower.
God doesn’t want to destroy what he has created, he desperately wants it to succeed. (“Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?” Ezekiel 18:23)
How the planter desperately desires for his fig tree to live and bear fruit!
How he desires that the fig tree, that every person, might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
But if the tree doesn’t begin to bear fruit it risks perishing altogether, it risks being cut down.
A couple takeaways from this parable:
- God is not a short-tempered owner of a sports franchise who is quick to fire an unsuccessful coach.
God is love, and among other things love is patient. (1 John 4:8, 1 Cor. 13:4)
Thus, God is patient and he doesn’t give up on sinners.
He is willing to wait, to give more time to the sinner in hopes that the sinner might change their ways and start doing good.
“Forty years I endured that generation.” (Psalm 95:10)
God is patient and merciful.
He gives us day after day, season after season, year after year to repent and bear fruit.
- Consider how the gardener intercedes on behalf of the barren fig tree.
In the book of Genesis, Adam is given the work of gardening, of cultivating and caring for God’s creation. “The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” Genesis 2:15
Jesus, the New Adam, is a gardener.
When Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, she mistakenly thought he was “the gardener.”
Jesus is the one who cultivates and cares for God’s creation, he is at work in every human heart that has received the seed of his word.
And how Jesus desires for the seed of his word to grow and bear fruit in the world.
How he intercedes on our behalf.
When we live selfishly, when we bear little to no fruit, Jesus pleads to the Father saying, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.”
The parable of the barren fig tree is a parable that brings incredible consolation to us who are sinners.
But the parable also strikes fear in the sinner, warning us of the reality of what comes to those who have been given every opportunity to repent, but stubbornly refuse.