3 March 2013

Luke 13:1-9

"He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" (vv. 8-9)


I am a very tentative gardener at the best of times, so the move to my current house brought with it the heavy responsibility of having to tend and care for a fig tree. Its lack of edible fruit perhaps goes to show that I am not the best inheritor of this fine tree, but it serves as a regular reminder about Jesus' teaching on figs and fruitfulness (if not a helpful parable for my own discipleship!).

Our passages this week are book-ended with accounts of fig trees. This is not just a horticultural interlude in proceedings, however. For Jesus' hearers this would have serious implications for their own understanding. The fig tree is a well known metaphor within Jewish history, used as an image for the safety and security of the Jewish nation.

In Deuteronomy 8:7-8, fig trees are part of the realisation of the promised land, and in Jeremiah 8:13 the lack of fig trees marks part of God's judgement on Israel during the exile. The presence and fruitfulness of fig trees, or otherwise, is intrinsically linked to the presence and fruitfulness of the Jewish nation.

The audience to whom Jesus addresses this first fig parable were grumbling about how Jesus was investing his time. They were concerned that Jesus was not making good decisions about his priorities, and might not have been showing due care towards some people in favour of others.

To this complaint, Jesus tells a story about a gardener who is commissioned to look after the fig tree. A three-year process of tending to the tree had resulted in no fruit and a very frustrated landowner. Now the landowner wants to cut down the tree and use the land for more profitable purposes. But the gardener is more patient and requests one more year.

The parable unmasks the reality of Jesus' ministry and his desire to continue to tend, nurture and care for his Jewish brothers and sisters - but also begins a tenor of judgement regarding the requirement of Israel to become fruitful and grow.

To Ponder

  • What is taking our time away from investing in the things that matter?
  • Where would you like to see growth over the next year?
  • What do you need to invest in, in order to encourage growth?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling

Joanne Cox-Darling is a Methodist presbyter currently serving in the Wolverhampton Circuit, where most recently she participated in a harvest festival in a farmyard, surrounded by a 'small' dairy herd of nearly 200 cattle. Joanne is the chair of the Christian Enquiries Agency ( - described by the Archbishop of York as the "possibly the easiest form of evangelism you will ever do".