Once, there were these three peach trees from Georgia. Why Georgia? All the good peach trees are from Georgia. One of these trees decided that it didn’t want to produce Georgia peaches. It wanted to produce Washington apples. But no matter how hard it tried, if it produced fruit at all, well, it was peaches. So, it gave up and produced nothing; happily sucking up nutrients from the soil for no good reason. Another tree decided that it didn’t want to produce fruit at all. It felt that it should have a different purpose than producing fruit. It could be a swing; a jungle gym; a home for squirrels; anything other than producing fruit. It also gave up on the fruit thing. The third tree was happy to produce juicy Georgian peaches. It had a purpose and it lived it. You are not a tree. Sorry to disappoint. But like a fruit tree, you also have a purpose. You were also intended to produce fruit. It is not your job to decide what kind of fruit; it is not your purpose to do something else than yield fruit. It is your job to bear fruit. And only when you are within the parameters of fruit producing will you be happy.
Luke 13:6-9 is a parable about a fig tree. The setting scene is Jesus’ discussion on the need to repent. So, repentance may be the specific fruit he is referencing here. Parable hoe. There was this man who had a fig tree in a vineyard. This may seem odd to us and that may send us scampering for a hidden message. But there are several examples of fruit trees being planted in a vineyard. Some suggest that this is so that the tree can benefit from the fertile vineyard soil. Some have suggested that the grapes, and therefore the wine, will take on a subtle flavor from the fruit tree. I don’t know. I am not a dendrologist. It was a common enough scenario that I don’t think we need to search for a hidden meaning. The main part of the parable is that this fig tree did not produce fruit. No figs for you.
Many sources will claim at this point that the fig tree is used to represent Israel. Well, in Isaiah 5 and other places the vineyard represents Israel. In Hosea 9:10 God said that he saw the Israelite forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree. In Hosea, the point is most likely about potential. Those crazy forefathers were brimming with potential. But instead, they devoted themselves to shame. I think that to limit the parable to unrepentant Israel, well, limits the parable. One of the basic meanings is that fig trees have a purpose. They are intended to produce figs.
The owner of the vineyard tells the vineyard worker that he has been searching for fruit for three years. It is assumed that he didn’t begin to seek for fruit until the tree was expected to produce. The owner himself came seeking for fruit. This is both comforting and terrifying. You see, we are intended to bear fruit. In the context that at least includes repentance. It is the owner, God himself, who checks for fruit. And if he cannot pluck a fig from our branches, he is going to suggest an ax solution. John the Baptist gave the same warning in Luke 3:9. Not only is this tree not fulfilling its purpose, it is also depleting the land. And maybe that is why this fig tree is planted in the vineyard. The whole vineyard may be adversely affected by its lack of fruit. It is robbing the soil of nutrients without a single result. The owner will not tolerate this. So, what is the big deal if we don’t produce fruit? Our stagnation may just ruin the soil for others in the vineyard. It is never just about us.
The vineyard worker argues compassion; a second chance. Give it one more year. The worker will take special care of the tree; digging around it and working in some fertilizer. If that ol’ fig tree begins to produce fruit, it is a win win situation for everyone. The owner has the benefit of the fruit and the tree survives. But if it doesn’t yield itself some fruit, the ax will come out and the tree will be cut down. Fruit trees have a purpose. Everything about the tree is intended to work that purpose. You and I may not be trees, but we also have a purpose. So, repent and produce the fruit that comes with repentance. It is not enough to say, “Sorry about that.” Produce fruit.
There is this refrain in the Old Testament (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10): “So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree.” This seems to be about, not only safety, but the purpose of God being fulfilled. When we bear fruit as we are intended to do, we can rest in safety; in the shade of a nice tree. Bearing fruit results in safety and rest. Not bearing fruit results in depleting resources not only for ourselves, but for others as well. Get fruity then. Grace and peace.