Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The Barren Fig Tree

Luke 13:6-9 – “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

The Barren Fig Tree

A fig tree in a vineyard, what a strange place to put one, right? Not really. Fruit trees were often planted in vineyards for a number of reasons. They provided shade and food for the vineyard workers as well as an extra source of income for the owner.

The parable was also a well known story for the people of the time, from a child’s fairy tale:

“My son, you are like the tree which did not give fruit, in spite of the fact that it grew next to a spring. Its owner was forced to cut it down. The tree said to him: ‘Transplant me, and if I do not bear fruit in the new place either, then cut me down.'” In reply, the owner said: “When you were next to the water, you did not bear fruit. Why then should fruit appear on your branches if you are in a different place?'”

Both stories deal with a fig tree that, after a period of time, does not bear fruit. Both stories leave us wondering at the end just what happened after that last year. Jesus knew the people were aware of this tale, and would easily catch onto the meaning, but we are quite a few years away from the time when it was well known, let’s see if we are as clever.

Unquestionably the landowner here is God, and the vinedresser is Jesus. For three years Jesus went about Israel telling people of the glory of the Kingdom of God, and the pathway to that Kingdom. Yet, after three years the message still was not getting through. Yes, Jesus had followers, but not nearly enough for the amount of effort he was putting out.

After those three years God, in Gethsemane, tells his son that the time is up, and he is to come home. The effort is in, and it’s time to cull the herd. Jesus begs for more time and a bargain is struck. It’s now time for the disciples to take over for one more shot at getting the tree to produce fruit, after which the Father’s sword will come and seal the fate of the tree.

We are in that last year, when it is over what will the Father see when they return to the tree? Will we bear fruit?


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