Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Blessed to bear fruit

Here is a fantastic passage from a sermon printed in Justo Gonzalez and Pablo Jimenez, Pulpito: An Introduction to Hispanic Preaching, speaking of the parable of the fruitless fig tree (Luke 13.6ff.):

What does this parable mean, in this context? It clearly means that those of us who survive, those Galileans who were not killed by Herod or those Jews on whom the tower did not fall, or those of us who have not died from famine, or those whose airplane has not crashed, are living only by the grace of God, and that our continued life is for the purpose that we bear fruit.

It also means that even our apparent blessing and abundance is not necessarily something of which we should boast. The tree that has produced no fruit receives special attention and added fertilizer, not because it is so good, but rather because it is so poor.

In order to understand the poignancy of the parable, one has to remember what a vineyard looks like at the time when one would normally have come looking for figs on a tree. The vineyard would have already yielded its grapes, and would already have been pruned. It would all have been cut down, and one would see nothing but dry and gnarled stumps. And, in the midst of this scene of apparent desolation, stands a verdant fig tree. It has never been pruned. It has been allowed to grow tall and green. Now, it will receive even further special treatment. The vinedresser will dig around it, and give it an exceptional dose of fertilizer. To a casual observer, the tree would appear to be specially blessed, and the vines cursed and forgotten, and one would think that the fig tree must be especially valuable if it is treated with such care. But the truth is exactly the opposite. The fig tree is receiving special care because it has yet to give the fruit it is meant to bear.

I said at the beginning that I do not particularly like this parable. And this is the final and true reason why I do not like it. I would like to think that the reason why I have a comfortable house, when so many are homeless, and a substantial income, when so many are poor, and all kinds of food to eat, when so many are hungry, and a relatively healthy body, when so many are ill, is that I have somehow been particularly faithful. I would like to think that the reason why I have already lived longer than the average person on this globe is because my life has been so productive.

This text, however, leads me to think otherwise. Could it be, could it just be, that the reason why I have been given all these advantages is that otherwise I would have great difficulty bearing fruit? Could it be that all these things of which I so pride myself are really just so muhc manure piled on me because otherwise I'd be such a lousy fruit tree? (pp. 99-100)

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