Let It Alone For One More Year
Fri 28th February
Jesus as recorded in Luke 13: 6-9 narrates a parable about a fig tree that continues not to bring forth fruits when the owner comes searching for its fruits. After three years of thorough inspection and waiting, the owner pronounces his judgement to cut down such a tree with no fruits, for it even wastes the soil. There comes the gardener, who pleads the owner to let it stay for one more year, for he would give extra care and effort and strive to bring fruit, and then takes a grace period of extending the life of that tree by an year, ‘if it doesn’t yield fruit even then, you can do as you want, to cut it down’, says the gardener. Now I would like to attempt to re-read this parable of Jesus from our own given context and try to decipher the voice and position of God in this parable, and find implications for us in our faith journey.
The Economic-Corporate Greed:
Here is an owner of the land, who planted a fig tree in his vineyard. His understanding of a garden is to yield fruits all the time, be it grapes or figs from his garden. When he kept looking for fruits for three years from a lonely fig tree among the vine groves, he kept judging the fig tree by its yield. He wasn’t satisfied with the yield that comes from the vines in his vineyard. He, like any other corporates gives a time period of three years for the fig tree to produce its yield and prove its mettle. He believes that by only bearing fruits, a tree has worth, if not, it ceases to be worthy. All he wanted to make was profit from his garden, and therefore pronounces a judgement that three years of waiting for fruits from the fig tree is a waste of time and soil and a waste of employees working on her. So he says to the gardener to ‘cut down the tree.’ This is exactly the ideology of greed, to have more and more, to have profit and to judge by those norms of profit, in this case the external visible fruits of figs.
The Eco- Feminist Creed:
There comes a common powerless gardener, who dares to speak on behalf of the fruitless fig tree, appealing him for one more year and one more opportunity to prove its credibility. It is this employee gardener who spends lots of time with the trees and the vines in the vineyard, and knows the worth of each tree in the garden and befriends all of the trees with whom he keeps working. The gardener does not join the owner in judging it by its fruits, instead he assures the owner to take extra effort, extra care, by digging around and by putting manure for her and appeals for yet another chance to affirm her life. Cutting down the fig tree just because it does not bear fruits is not an available option for the gardener. The gardener wants to save life, affirm life and build a community of unity and diversity seasoned with justice & peace. Probably, according to the gardener, the fig tree would have been a space of shade for him in that scorching sun, where he could take some rest. Or the fig tree could have been a nesting place for several birds in that vicinity, or the fig tree would have had the strings of the vines tied to her, bearing the tension of those grapes on the vines. The gardener developed a cherishing relationship with the trees and the vines in the vineyard, and cannot think of any tree being cut off for any reason, and therefore the gardener’s creed was ‘do not cut down the tree.’ For cutting down the trees have both sociological and ecological problems, and the small farmer very well recognises this fact and pleads not to cut down the tree.
The Encouraging Seed:
We recognise the voice of God in the gardener, who counters greed by affirming life, who doesn’t judge by mere fruits, but seeks extra time and opportunity in preparing the tree to fruit. Imagine, the owner who is all powerful could have easily neglected the voice of the gardener or could have punished the gardener for not listening to his command, yet the gardener, who cares for every tree equally, whether it has fruits or not, takes courage to speak to a person with power, risks his life and employment and appeals to give him an opportunity to prove life. We see an eco-feminist in this gardener, who relates to all of the creation with equality and justice, and wants all trees and plants to live and let other creatures live. The gardener knowing the ill effects of cutting down the trees prevents such a mishap by placing his life in a state of jeopardy, in speaking back to the greedy owner. The eco-feminist towards the end of the parable says, ‘if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’, which only shows that he is confident that the tree would bring fruits, life of the fig tree would be affirmed in dignity by next year, otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed to such a deal. The parable is silent of what has happened the next year after all these extra efforts of the gardener, but if we stretch our imagination, two primary things could have happened. One, the owner would have realised over the year that it is not always by fruits that one needs to judge a tree, for he would have changed his mind to acknowledge life in all forms in the creation and recognises the worth of every creature as he or she comes forth. There could have been a change of mind to the greedy owner on recognising the extra efforts of the gardener. On the other hand, the other possibility could have been to visualise the fig tree filled with lots of amazing figs on her branches to surprise the owner, and the owner would have realised how mean he was in being judgemental on the tree and by wanting to cut the tree.
Implications for us today:
At a time like this, when ecology is contaminated by human greed and selfishness, Christian Public Witness is to affirm life, support life, protect life and sustain life, life in all its fullness.
Let us not be driven by values of greed and profit in our lives, for affirming life in all its dignity to all of the creation is all that matters in the journey of faith. Let us make a commitment to participate in the struggles for justice of all the victims of greed in our contexts. Let us pledge to give up, overcome and defeat greed this Lent.
Let us not judge creation and people merely from our own perspectives try to look life in all its totality, wholeness and fullness and learn to respect the equal worth of life in all creatures of God. For justice is beyond borders.
Make a commitment to befriend our creation, make them as our kith and kin, stop cutting down trees, and be committed to our environment and ecology. Rise and respond to the needs of our creation.
Explore God among the powerless and those among the margins, for justice and peace comes from them to the entire communities. For it is no longer ‘mission to the margins’, but it is ‘mission from the margins’.
The gospel need in the context of corporate greed to is to affirm life in all its fullness and trying to explore and locate God among those on the margins, specially the landless labourers, small farmers, daily wage employees, un-seasoned and off-seasoned workers etc. and continue to work for community of peace and justice for all. May God, the farmer who seeds God’s creation in all equality continue to inspire each of us to channel peace, equality and justice to all of our creation.
Rev Raj Patta is a presbyter in the United Stockport Circuit.