I was relaxing in the park and began watching a small boy playing with a toy airplane. It was one of those planes that will glide for 10 to 30 yards once it is launched by hand. The boy was having trouble getting it airborne and it crashed in front of him time and time again. His frustration was evident so his father began to give the boy instructions of how to make it fly by showing his son how to coordinate his arm motion with the plane remaining parallel to the ground. The only problem was the plane as it was launched by the father crashed instead of flying. His son said “it’s no good let’s get another one.” Listening to the gospel today the reaction of the owner the fig tree was like the little boy – if it isn’t working get rid of it and get another.
The father of that boy and the gardener both understood that the failure was not because of the plane or the tree. They patiently explained that they must do more to ensure it did what it was designed to do.
In this year of mercy, I hear a parable reminding us of God’s patience as we find our way to live according to God’s plan instead of our own plan. I believe this parable invites us to examine not only if we are using our God given talents for the good of the community but also to examine where we find ourselves daily. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that we do fall short of living according to God’s plan.
This parable challenges us to understand we can be busy doing things for God and at the same time find ourselves far from doing God’s will. We must understand that apart from Christ we are incapable of living as God created us to live. Do you remember when Jesus referred to his Father as the vinedresser (Jn. 15:1)? If we are going to produce fruit then we must allow ourselves to be pruned by the vinedresser.
Listen to the words of the gardener again: “let me cultivate the ground around it … fertilize it …so it may produce in the future.” We are being specifically told that we must have our roots deep in Christ (I am the vine you are the branches) in order to be fruitful for the kingdom of God. We must be rooted in Christ even as most of our time is spent being husbands, wives, employees and employers. We are daily living as parents, children, friends and good citizens. God also calls us to live as part of a faith filled community and within a family which nourishes faith.
Yet the world we find ourselves in daily makes it hard to cultivate the fruit of dying to self, gentleness, forbearance, self control, joy, love and peace. The key for us is to understand is that we are not just the tree that must be fruitful but we are also the gardener called to cultivate the faith of others. The only way that can happen is for us to become totally dependent on the Spirit to transform us (cultivate us) and keep us rooted in Christ.
I believe God is reminding us today that we must daily embrace Jesus as Lord. Daily we must call upon the Holy Spirit to place us in situations where we can proclaim the love of God and we must be bold in seeking out unfertile ground to cultivate. This is the mission of each of us as disciples and the mission of the church in the world.
We must never compromise our faith in order to get along. We must never hide our belief in Christ even if we are told a price will be paid by an outward display of our faith. We must always seek Christ in the simple things of the world and seek opportunities to give witness to our faith. We must not shy away from or condemn sinners but we must proclaim Christ to them and offer them living water.
We cannot remain within the safety of the walls of our churches performing wonderful good deeds and performing spiritual exercises but we must go plant seeds where the soil is barren and keep cultivating the soil around those seeds.
Lent is a time where we willfully and deliberately do something extra in order to draw closer to God. This gospel today reminds us ir is easy to do something for 40 days in order to grow spiritually. But a greater challenge to us is to grow fruit in ourselves or others during the other 325 days of the year.