The Barren Fig Tree
October 22nd Readings Reflection: Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them– do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
Last week, my family went apple picking at a beautiful New England orchard. Here and there throughout the orchard were young trees that had very tiny apples on them — fruit too small to be picked this season, but fruit nonetheless. It shows that these small trees were alive and growing, and that in a few years, they shall have beautiful, large apples to be picked.
The parable in the second paragraph of today’s Gospel reminds me of those young trees. The gardener had sought fruit from his fig tree for three years, and yet not a trace of fruit was to be found. The owner of the orchard in the parable told the gardener to cut down the fruitless fig, lest it “exhaust the soil,” but the merciful gardener asked for one more year. “I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”
Unlike the apple trees I saw, this fig tree did not bear even the tiniest of fruits; it seemed completely barren and useless. Jesus tells us that this is what our lives are like when we do not live out our Faith. Often due to a myriad of different reasons, we find ourselves no longer following the teachings of Christ in the Gospels, instead trying to navigate our own way through the murky waters of life. We often fall away from prayer and the Sacraments and no longer conscientiously seek to practice virtue in our lives. Like the barren tree, we simply are, existing without bearing any fruit for our souls or the souls of our neighbours.
However, God, the merciful Gardener, never gives up on us. He continues to “cultivate the ground around [us] and fertilize [us]” by showering down His graces upon us. Nonetheless, it is ultimately up to us whether or not we will bear fruit. Shall we accept the graces that God is offering to us and change our lives so that we may start to bear fruit, or will we remain set in our ways and continue to bear no fruit? The choice belongs to each of us, but God wants us to choose the former, for as the Alleluia verse today says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion that he may live.”
God does not expect us to bear mature, ripe fruit overnight. Just as the apple trees begin by bearing tiny fruit, so too we, in our spiritual lives, often only bear tiny, seemingly insignificant fruits. However, the gardener in today’s parable didn’t specify how big the fruit must be in order for the tree to remain, and neither does God. St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way” is all about embracing the seemingly small fruits that one bears, knowing that in God, they are magnified and made perfect.
Today, may we pray for the grace to not be a barren tree in the Heavenly Father’s orchard, but to bear good fruit always.