Scripture: Luke 13:1-9
Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. In this Lenten season, take us to that place within You that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Amen.
I don’t like the passage in Luke for this week. Half of it is difficult to interpret and speaks familiarly of things that happened over two millennia ago in a place that probably none of us (or very few) have ever visited: the tower of Siloam? What is that? We’ve read about the Pool of Siloam before, so they must be connected somehow. But frankly, I found that part of the passage distracting this week. Instead, I needed something I could tease out some sort of meaning for and relate to contemporary life.
The second half of the Lukan passage is parable – that is, a fictional teaching story used to illustrate a point. I had to wonder, is there any relation between the deaths of the folks on the Temple Mount and this fig tree illustration? Maybe. And then there is the word “manure;” we know exactly what that word is; did Jesus really use the polite term for it or was he speaking in more plain language? I didn’t look the Greek up this time, since it was supposedly a gardening metaphor, but I wonder…
Luckily, commentator Daniel Deffenbough has something to say about the parable. Because it is a parable, hearers (and later readers) intrinsically approach it as if it is multi-layered. Perhaps, as Deffenbough notes, the real message is about the gardener, not the owner. Recall the owner wants to cut down the fig tree and plant something more useful. But the gardener pleads with the owner to let him till and keep, a direct allusion to Genesis 2:15 when God puts humankind on the planet to “till and keep” the earth. In effect, the gardener becomes the Advocate for caring for the fig tree for another whole year to see if it will bear fruit. Advocate? Now where have we heard that term before?
Theologically, if we follow an Augustinian interpretation of this text, the manure has symbolic importance – it is a symbol for humility; thus, if each of us were a fig tree, the manure around our roots is the very blood of Christ, who pleads for our justification before God. Or, put another way, Christ, in advocacy for us, through whom we offer up the fruits of the kingdom to our Creator, becomes both advocate and care-taker, offering up his own sacrifice of time to tenderly nurse us to fruitfulness.
Which brings me to a practical exercise I’d like to have you engage in. On page four of your bulletin I’ve included questions for reflection, morning and evening prayer for use this week. Here is what I’d like you to do: Please form intentionally intergenerational discussion groups, read the questions to one another, think about your answers, and then discuss them. Write them down in the space provided for reference later this week. At the end of five minutes, I’d like to hear a sampling of what you discussed. Are there any questions about how to proceed? Please begin.
Questions for Reflection
Luke 13:6–9 tells the story of a fruitless fig tree that the owner is ready to cut down. The gardener, however, asks for a little more time. The gardener wants to tend and cultivate the soil in the hope that figs may yet grow. The gardener is open to a different future for this tree, in spite of its present condition. Think about your own life, or the life of someone you love, in relationship to this story: What needs special tending? What will cultivate the “soil” of daily life so that new growth, new possibilities, might emerge? And what can you learn from this gardener about allowing for a different outcome, a new possibility?
You have something to work on this week? Good! Give to God the places in your life that need attention this week; as you work out your growth in Christ, be confident that the Holy Spirit will lead the way.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us. Amen? May it be so.
 Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder