In tomorrow’s reading we see the parable of the fig tree. This sort of tree is a source of fruit, a source of nourishment for the world. In the desert lands in which Jesus taught and journeyed it would have been seen as sustenance, life. The owner of the vineyard, the farmer, came along after three years of time and saw that the fig was still not bearing fruit. He then turns to the vinedresser and says, “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?”(Luke 13:7) The vinedresser in turn begs for another year. He wants to spend more time cultivating. More time giving the tree a chance to produce fruit. Then, though, he will have to cut it down.
I find it extremely telling that the Owner speaks of three years of time. Jesus himself had only three years of preaching to convince the Jewish people that he was the Messiah that they had been seeking. Here the owner must indeed represent the Father. It’s almost as if Jesus is giving us a glimpse of a conversation that was to come, one after his crucifixion. God the Father has tired of the people who he has been sending messages to. He tried to send them through Abraham. He tried to send it through the prophets. Then the judges. Then during the time of the Kings. Then he sent his only Son. As in the Parable a few days ago, the tenants did not bother to give over that fruit they were supposed to be growing. They abused the servants, and then killed the Son.
In the Eucharist he gives us everything we need to produce that sumptuous and elegant fruit that the Father seeks in our lives. God is calling out to us in love, asking us to love in return. To love God and our fellow man.
I think this parable is much the same. The owner of the vineyard has returned to collect that fruit. Yet, here he finds the barren tree. This person has borne no fruit though he has heard the word of God preached for a fullness of time. Three is considered a perfect number. Complete. This person has heard the word long enough! Yet he still rejects the message. Then steps in the vinedresser. He stands between God and man, he intercedes on our behalf. This man must be Jesus himself. Though he has been toiling in the vineyard for three years, there are still these trees that bear no fruit. Even though they have rejected him, even though they have sent him to a bloody, and thankless death, he still begs for them.
Jesus declared to his disciples that he was the vine, the thing from which sustenance flows. That God is the gardener, the husbandman, the owner of the vineyard. Jesus wants to give them more time.. he wants to nourish them… he wants to water the seeds that he has planted. We as Catholics acknowledge that “Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the one and only mediator between God and men.” (CCC 480) He is the one who steps in to cultivate the dirt of our soul, to create a truly beautiful soil ready for growth, rich with virtue and grace.
How then can we apply this to our lives? To our own situations? We are the fig tree. We are either producing fruit or not. God has sent his message into our hearts. He has given us all the tools we need to learn more. That’s the Son still calling out to us. Through the Church, through the Scriptures, through nature itself, he continually digs around our roots and places nourishment there for us to consume. In the Eucharist he gives us everything we need to produce that sumptuous and elegant fruit that the Father seeks in our lives. God is calling out to us in love, asking us to love in return. To love God and our fellow man. He has sent his Holy Spirit into the world, into our hearts, to help us even further.. to fertilize our hearts.. to take away that dry weary land, that heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh that will reach out to bring about God’s kingdom.
The Catechism says that “the fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” (CCC 1829) God is giving us just a bit more time, Christ is seeking to open our hearts to love. We don’t have forever though.. it is appointed unto man once to die, and after the judgement. (Hebrews 9:27) We don’t know when that will be. The Parable says that the vinedresser asked for another year… another span of time, just another season. Then comes the judgement though.. then if there is no fruit, it will be cut down. The truth of the matter is this: all of us have that one thing in common. We are all going to die one day. God has given us the fullness of time, he has given us every opportunity to produce fruit.. and how often we fail. The son wanted us to have another chance, so much was his love for us that he came down as a man himself, and died in our place. He has made the downpayment.. it’s up to us to do something about it. We are planted in God’s vineyard through baptism, the Church. The Church, the body of Christ, is continually tilling around us, feeding us with every spiritual food available through the Holy Spirit, the liturgy, the Scriptures, and the Sacraments. Our roots are being nourished, but it’s up to us to drink.
The Samaritan woman at the well represents us. We are going to the well. If we only knew the gift of God, if we only knew who stands before us, if we only took a drink of the water he offers… our fruit would blossom so much that the whole world would see it! Are you drinking of that well? Or like the rich young man are you letting some attachment stand in your way? It’s time for us to get in line behind Christ, to point our face toward the cross and say, “Here I am lord, speak your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)
Once again, I must reiterate, Christ is coming to us daily. He is seeking to pick that fruit. He comes in the face of the stranger, the refugee, the orphan. The homeless man down the street. The angry fellow in traffic. The tired, overworked nurse who just wants to complain on her lunch break. The young couple in the pew who struggles with their child. That neighbor who just wants a little conversation, a little human interaction at the end of a long day. All of these people are looking for some fruit. They just want to experience a little love. Are you offering that fruit? Are you responding with joy, peace, and mercy? Are you running toward them with the open arms of the Father, with love? Oh imagine the world in which we did such things, Church! That line from Augustine quoted in the Catechism is so beautiful isn’t it? “There is the goal(love); that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” Are you running toward Christ in the least of these? There, there in the arms of the dying, the poor, the outcasts.. that’s where you’ll find the love of Christ reflected, that’s where you will find rest.
The Samaritan woman at the well represents us. We are going to the well. If we only knew the gift of God, if we only knew who stands before us, if we only took a drink of the water he offers… our fruit would blossom so much that the whole world would see it!
When God came down on the burning bush before Moses, the bush was not consumed. It was rather transformed into something amazing, something beautiful, something that reflected the glory of God to the world. It became a symbol, a beacon. The place became so Holy because of the presence of the Holy Spirit that God said to Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Think about that symbolism for a minute. As you walk up that Aisle today toward the Eucharist.. not only are you on Holy Ground.. but you are about to become Holy Ground. You are about to receive God himself into your body. You are about to be filled with that same glorious power that Moses saw radiating from the burning bush. It does not destroy you.. it transforms you.. Are you allowing it do just that? Are you allowing God’s light to shine into the world in such a way that people want to remove their baggage, their spiritual shoes, and walk in the presence of God? Are you offering them that fruit? Only you can offer the unique fruit that you are designed to give. No one else can give it the same way, the same kind, the same you. Are you ready to be a fig tree in God’s garden? Are you ready to be Holy Ground?
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”