We were asked in church yesterday to put ourselves into the parable of the fig tree, which is found only in the Gospel of Luke
A landowner comes to inspect his fig trees. Many are doing well, producing much fruit. But one is not, and the landowner demands that the gardener cut it down and toss it. The gardener pleads for another year to take special care of it, digging a hole around it and fertilizing it. The landowner relents.
The priest asked, which are you, the landowner, the gardener or the fig tree? What are you feeling in this situation?
I immediately thought of myself as the gardener; I am a gardener, but I have also always thought pompously of myself as a nurturer and a cheerleader for the underdog.
Yet my second thought as the gardener was, why the hell haven’t I done something about this fig tree before the owner came to inspect it? How could I have let the tree come to this pass? Now I’ve got answers; why didn’t I try to prevent it from getting to this state?
The parable, we were told, is meant to show that God always gives us second chances.
Maybe She shouldn’t.
There is grace in second chances, but I’m left thinking about the tremendous amount of suffering and death that occurs in the geopolitical world because the nations that are able to do so don’t take the first chance to prevent the situations that lead to that suffering and death.
How many droughts in the poorest countries of the world had been predicted before millions died of starvation?
Who in power couldn’t foresee the mass exodus of refugees from war-torn Syria and didn’t put into place any form of relief and aid before thousands began dying in the cold waters off the Greek islands?
What states-people couldn’t have guessed that invading Iraq would lead to a push-back in which whole villages would disappear?
Who missed the clues, in the early days of the rise of the Tea Party, leading to many of the victories of the civil rights movement, particularly about voting rights, being wiped away by zealous white supremacists who call themselves politicians?
We’ve been given second, third and even fourth chances, but as a global community we have squandered them. How many more chances do we deserve?
Before telling this parable, Jesus was telling people that tragic events are not caused by the victims’ sins. “No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Repent, to turn away, to do things differently. I don’t think this parable is about second chances at all, but about the unintended (and sometimes intended) consequences that will befall us if we don’t start looking after our world and all of the people in it.
You can read the full passage from Luke here: Repent or Perish