And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
— Luke 13:1-9
Jesus spoke this parable using the following symbolism: the fig tree represented Israel, the vineyard owner represented God the Father, and the vineyard-keeper represented Jesus Christ. He gave these people this particular parable because they were supposing that the Galileans in question, those whom Pilate murdered, were somehow more deserving of their punishment than their peers. It was common for Pharisees to believe and teach that all such catastrophes were absolute indicators of divine judgement from God. This is the same error that Job’s so-called friends made when they assessed Job’s dire situation. “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed" (Job 4:7)? As we know from the Book of Job, Job was not guilty of anything warranting his specific suffering, thus dispelling the you-must-be-guilty-if-you’re-suffering viewpoint.
When Jesus said, “you will likewise perish,” He was making a clear reference to the simple fact that ALL were guilty and needed to repent, lest they, too, be destroyed. This is a tremendous lesson for all of us, even today.
In our weakness, we tend to point fingers at others we have deemed “guiltier” than ourselves. The Bible tells us that we are all deserving of death. Jesus’ message to the finger-pointing crowd (and to us today) was to consider God’s rightful judgement on themselves, sinners, instead of their neighbors. As a corollary, consider the fact that they didn’t know what God knew about the heart of the Galileans in view. So, what gave them the right to judge, lest they make themselves out to be like one of Job’s so-called friends?
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
— Romans 5:6
Need I quote more? Is Romans 5:6 not a magnanimous enough statement for you? Or are you going to continue pointing fingers (we all do it). If we can manage to get past our own ridiculousness, then we can continue with the meat and potatoes of the aforementioned parable of the fig tree above. Let’s do that now.
As I mentioned, in this parable, the vineyard owner is our Father, the vineyard-keeper is Jesus Christ, and the tree is Israel. The owner has chosen this fig tree to prosper under Him, which is something the prophet Isaiah wrote about as well:
Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard.
“What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
“So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
“I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
— Isaiah 5:1-7
Throughout history, and particularly during the time of Jesus’ parable of the fig tree, Israel hadn’t fulfilled her duties as His chosen people (save a remnant), resulting in little or no righteous fruit bearing. They had been akin to a fruitless fig tree, hence the parable. What Jesus was conveying to His audience was that God the Father had every right to destroy the fruitless tree. This is something all believers need to remember, even today, being His chosen as well.
If we all got what we deserved in time, we’d all be destroyed in the blink of an eye. Therefore, in the first place, we have no right to judge our neighbors, regardless of how sinful they might be, or “deserving” of punishment. Secondly, we ought to be grateful for the Lord’s intercession, the way the fig tree ought to have been in Jesus’ parable. What the parable tells us is that God the Father was divinely patient with His own people, and additionally, that the Messiah interceded for them, asking for even more patience. God increased His own patience as a result. The same pattern holds true today, for each of us. Thank you, Jesus!
Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
— Romans 8:34
The truly amazing thing is that while we run off and point fingers at others, God increases His patience for us through the intercession of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What we deserve, we do not receive in time. Even His Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). This kind of undeserved, stupendous patience can only be described as grace. While we suppose others guiltier and therefore more worthy of punishment, we show ourselves the greater culprit all the more. ”But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God” (Romans 2:3)? Yet, our rightful judgment is withheld. Incredible.
I thank God every day for His patience with me. When I’m honest with myself, as I hope you are, I must accept that I’m no better or worse than the next guy. And even if I were, I’d never know about it because only God knows such things. That’s the point of the parable. While I don’t know how or when divine discipline ought to be metered out, I do know that I’ve earned my own fair share of it. And yet here I am writing this blog in the comfort of my own home, in the loving embrace of the same One who is able to crush me, as I so deserve.
Thanks be to God for His patience!
Love in Christ,