The mingling of not only the Gentile world and then by consequence human wickedness with the love of God seems to be the catalyst for the parable of the fruitless fig tree. There is a great chasm between our encounter with God and our actions which Mr Putin epitomises as he seeks to annihilate a people. His actions bear no relevance or authenticity on the Orthodox Christian faith he proclaims to keep. And I wonder if this mingling of self-proclaimed piety reflects the greatest sin of all.. to proclaim God while destroying those who reflect the image of the God one says much about our world historically and in the present in our political and secular purposes which defile religious offerings. The same sin of hypocrisy lies before each of us in how we treat each other. We do not always see the outworking of our actions and how we are killing each other in small ways of denial of each other. Mingling our love of God with our hatred, denial and exclusion of another.
But let’s go back to the beginning, and the fig tree… and a step into our imaginative exploration of the scriptures, one which I think holds some potential. The parables are complex and not always clear, they have great potential for the revelations they can provide. They can be played with and all sorts of outcomes are possible. So of course, I encourage you all to explore your imagination in the use of the parables and ask yourself, who is the gardener, where is the vineyard, who is the man? Why does it name the fig as the fruit? Familiarity or something more?
Let’s start with the fig tree! In the scriptures I am taken immediately to the Garden of Eden every time I hear of the fig tree. We know that the fruit that the first humans ate of were not apples, but more than likely figs. As you will know, fruit plays an important role in the Biblical narrative the Hebrew Bible naming six types of tree fruit, many times over: Grape, Fig, Olive, Pomegranate, Date and Apple.
These fruits are used in many different ways. Many people are named after fruit, e.g., Tamar in Genesis 38:6, which means “date,” Tappuah in 1 Chronicles 2:43, which means “apple.” Fruits are the namesake for a number of cities and towns, e.g., Anab in Joshua 11:21, which means “grape,” Rimmon (pomegranate) in Joshua 15:32.
Fruits are the subjects of laws, e.g., the law in Numbers 6:3 that a Nazirite may not eat or drink grape products or the law in Deuteronomy 24:20 that one may only beat an olive tree once (the remaining olives are for the poor).
Fruits are also used in a number of metaphors and similes such as, “Your breath is like the fragrance of apples” in Song of Songs 7:9 and “I found Israel [as pleasing] as grapes in the wilderness” in Hosea 9:10.
Fruits appear in curses and blessings such as “Your olives shall drop off [the tree]” in Deuteronomy 28:40 and “[Israel is a blessed] land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey” in Deuteronomy 8:8 and perhaps most obvious, fruits appear as objects in narratives, such as in Numbers 13:23, where the spies of Moses examine the grapes, pomegranates and figs of the land, and in Genesis 3, where Eve eats the forbidden fruit and is cast from Eden.
And it is to Eden that I want us to go and to the fruit that came from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I wonder if this vineyard represents Eden, and the parable is about the tree of knowledge being baren to that person in that vineyard because humankind is not benefitting from the knowledge of Good and Evil, but evil alone.
I wonder if in some measure, humanity has chosen it’s fullest flourishing, that is not good – for the fullest outworking of who we are is to satisfy our own desire, greed and want? Yet pleading, please let us try and put the manure around the fig tree, and pray that next year, the land will be worthy to bear the fruit and we, humanity might prevail further in knowing good and evil. But not evil alone.
Mr Putin is an easy target and extreme example of human nature. But he reflects the potential in each of us to know only our own comfort, desire and ambition – even though he is coming up against resistance, he is not being moved from his course of action.
In this house of God, how do we mingle with our faith that rejection you express towards the person next to you. How do you mingle with your love of God that disdainful look towards another. Or how do you keep your little group going and turn your back on others so that they cannot share in your life even for a moment?
Or amongst our wider community – the satisfaction that our ever more inward looking lives provide us so many opportunities to fail to relate to others because in our mobile phone life we relate to no-one except what is in the palm of our hands.
The gifts of God are being withheld in the scriptures, because we have moved too far towards the darkness and the reality of who we are and even in God’s sight we have become too unbalanced.
Each of us is a mixture of good and that which is less good. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But the abandonment of at least seeking or desiring to be wholly good, makes us mingle in our offering to God with that which he does not want.
This season of Lent is our time to look at the offering of ourselves, and to reflect God’s hope, and not ours alone. Perhaps the fig tree will bear fruit in time to come, perhaps there is always hope? We all have the potential to bear fruit..