Thursday, March 21 — Being Who God Made Us to Be
Yesterday, we heard how a conversation with his disciples about terrible calamities that unexpectedly befall people led Jesus to call everybody to “repent” – that is, to speak of the need everybody has to return to God and change the way our minds view life.
One thing to note is that before repentance is about a change in what we do it is about a change in how we see. Another way to put this is to say that we won’t begin to act in this world in the “right” way until we know who we really are and our true place in the order of things.
Jesus proceeded directly to tell a parable.
Then (Jesus) told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.
If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
Presumably in this parable the fig tree is a stand-in for a human being. If so, how do we understand the figs – the fruit that the fig tree is failing to produce? Probably the first thing that occurs to us is that figs represent “good deeds.” With all this talk in the parable about cutting down the fig-less fig tree our reaction might well be, “Well, I better get busy doing more good deeds or God is going to ‘cut me down!’”
I believe this is the wrong way to take this.
A fig tree produces figs. Not only is that what a fig tree does, you could also say it’s what a fig tree “is.” Otherwise there is no reason to call it a “fig” tree. Unless there is some kind of disease or depravation afflicting the fig tree, figs will come forth from it.
I find 1Corinthians 13 — the Apostle Paul’s famous “love” chapter – helpful here. Paul begins by asserting strongly that if we are not vessels of love we are “nothing” (a fig-less fig tree.) We were put on earth to love. When Paul proceeds to talk about the nature of love, he says more about what love is rather more than it does. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1Corinthians 13:4-5)
Who we are altogether impacts what we do. If we are running around in a kind of bondage in which we are feeling compelled to do “good deeds” in an endless attempt to prove that we shouldn’t be “cut down” then love won’t be expressed in all our frenetic activity. If our supposed “loving actions” are done with an underlying impatience, envy, anger, boastful pride, or record keeping (to use some of Paul’s words) then our actions won’t be blessings to others.
The words of the gardener in the parable are interesting. He asks the vineyard owner to withhold final judgment and have patience with the fig tree. Perhaps the fig tree needs time to figure out who it is. He also seems to suggest there could be something in the fig tree’s environment that is keeping it from producing fruit. He offers to “dig around it and put manure on it.” Perhaps the tree doesn’t have access to the nutrients it needs. And yet the gardener also implies that the fig tree (you and me) has some accountability here. We bear some responsibility, in our limited freedom to discover our true identity. We weren’t put here to simply take up soil, but to bear the fruit of love.
It is also important to note, that although every single human being was put on this earth to be a vessel of love, no two vessels are exactly the same. Our deepest identity is as God’s beloved child, but in God’s family no two siblings are absolutely identical. We shouldn’t measure our fruitfulness by comparing ourselves to others.
We will bear fruit most abundantly – we will express love most clearly – when we embrace the unique person God made us to be, with our unique combinations of strengths and weaknesses.
Persons who are being their authentic selves, in a spirit of love will be a blessing to others without actually “doing” anything. Their mere presence will be a blessing.