The fruitless Fig Tree – Luke 13 v 1 – 9

Notes from Tim’s sermon on the 11.02.07

Here is a fairly straight forward story about gardening – if a tree doesn’t perform it has to go! We have a Paulownia tree which is very beautiful but has got too big and if we prune it then it fails to flower – so, sadly, it is going to have to get the chop! But sometimes stories, and perhaps particularly foods conjures up images in our minds: cucumber sandwiches? (more tea vicar?) beef steak, beer and sandwiches (remember the TUC at no. 10?) so it was with figs for the Jews

Context of the Parable

Some horrible massacre had taken place and maybe in the act of worship, people had been slaughtered and desecrated. This was a shocking incident and maybe there was a bit of a self righteous attitude “they must have deserved it” Jesus challenges that complacency by preaching the need for repentance for all – starting with his hearers!
The same goes for 18 people who had perished in a building site accident – they didn’t die because they were worse than anyone else (and so those who didn’t die were better than those who did) but rather everyone is in the same boat and in need of repentance – no-one is good enough!
Here is the message of the Gospel – it is not about how good or bad you are but will you change direction and accept Gods forgiveness and make a new start! It may seem like bad news – we are all sinners – but the fact that repentance is open to all is good news!

Symbolism of the fig:

· Symbol of security – during the reign of Solomon “…lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree (1 kings 4 v 25)
· Symbol of healing – 2 kings 20 v 7 – prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil…and he recovered
· Symbol of Love – Song of Songs 2 v 13 – the fig tree forms its early fruit, the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.
· Picture of judgement – Good and bad figs (Jeremiah 24) – two basket of figs – one those who feared God even though they were carried off to Babylon and remembered him, the other the rest under King Zedekiah –

Zedekiah King of Judah
11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. 12 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the LORD. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him take an oath in God’s name. He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the LORD, the God of Israel. 14 Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the LORD, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem

· Symbol of the Lords blessing and blessing withdrawn –
· Jeremiah 8 v 13 – ” ‘I will take away their harvest,
declares the LORD.
There will be no grapes on the vine.
There will be no figs on the tree,
and their leaves will wither.
What I have given them
will be taken from them
· Amos 4 v 9 – Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
I struck them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the LORD.
· Haggai 2 v 19 – ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
”‘from this day on I will bless you.’ “

For the Jews the Fig was not just a source of food – it was a symbol of much more and a reminder of their history and position.
God had chosen them to be a place for:
Love
healing
Security
Provision
They were to be a people who showed what God was like so that others could come into a relationship with God – that through them all the nations of the world would be blessed – God has tremendous expectations and plans for his people!
So when Jesus tells this story about a fig tree it resonates with his hearers in lots of ways and maybe it makes them think about what has gone wrong (cf. Elders meeting when we had divided up some of the responsibilities and I had missed the meeting (or the point) and realized I was supposed to have prepared a report…..)
Here was a Fig tree – a beautiful source of Gods great provision – planted in a vineyard – a fertile and protected place – and nothing had been produced! This fig was a waste of space! If you wanted food then you had to go elsewhere
Suddenly the stories of Gods judgement and his threats of infertility seem very dire! – Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the LORD.
Fig leaves are beautiful – good for covering things up (ask Adam & Eve) – but unless they produce fruit, fig trees fail to serve their purpose!
God looks to his people to fulfil his purposes – to bear fruit that will last not to simply be a beautiful tree that makes us look respectable!
This parable may challenge us about fruitfulness in our own lives and our life together as a church. Jesus told it to people who had missed their vocation – they were unfruitful because they had forgotten what they were about. And so he calls them to repent!

Gods Grace

This is not the end of the story but it is a cross roads – here is a God who does not give up – leave it alone for one more year – put some more work in – forgive – have mercy. God knows the situation and we must see in ourselves our need of the work of the Holy Spirit to “dig around and fertilize” in order that we may bear fruit
The word for repentance that Jesus uses is “a present imperative and an aorist” – it is a one off event and an ongoing action. We need to be shaken out of our complacency, to have our eyes opened, to see what God ahs for us and to allow him to produce fruit in our lives.
It is a wake up call, a challenge, an encouragement, a reminder of what we are and what we should be. It is to bring us to the great love and wisdom of the one who knows how to get the best out of us and to make us depend on him.
Often, fruit trees that are growing beautifully will not produce much fruit – a fruitful tree may look a bit manky and some of the leaves will be damaged but the fruit will be wonderful –

Love healing security provision
A Twist?

This “man who took care of the vineyard” – lovely picture of the Holy Spirit – but has God planted in us his life to bear fruit there – and could we have a responsibility for cultivating that life? (At house group over the past few week we have been looking at a course which has practical exercises – fasting, silence, specific prayer and meditation etc)
To dig around – to remove the weds and allow the air in to the soil – bring our lives into line with God – removing the rubbish that competes and distracts – to bring our faith and life into the open
To fertilize – to feed on Gods word and to allow it to make a difference – to exercise in prayer and bible reading, to stand for God in his battles.
Sometimes God comes to us and shows us things that have gone wrong and we need to repent and throw ourselves on his mercy – and do something about it!

Luke 4 v 18
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”[e]
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

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