When it comes to parables, so much is packed into so little space that one must assume everything has something significant to explore. If Jesus included something in a parable, it’s a good idea to treat that something as significant.
Another thing about parables is the need to push past the mind’s desire to resolve a problem quickly – leaving the meat of the matter unexplored. Let’s look at one I’ve been chewing on lately.
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” NIV
Parable Puzzling Point #1 There’s not a great deal of hidden wisdom in a teaching about fertilizing a tree or plant in the hopes of producing a better harvest.
I enjoy a beautiful tree as much as the next guy – but when real estate is at a premium, and you are living in a day and age where life depends on the crop production, the decision to replace a non-producing tree is, frankly a no-brainer. So unless you are comfortable with Jesus being on par with Captain Obvious, it’s time to dig a bit deeper.
Parable Puzzling Point #2 Why is there a fig tree planted in a vineyard?
There are two other fig references that spring to mind. First is in Genesis where we read that Adam sewed fig leaves together after falling for the enemy’s trap to become like a god knowing good and evil. The second is just before the crucifixion where Jesus cursed a fig tree that was full of leaves but produced no fruit. Interesting to note that the next verse in Matthew 21 tells us that the temple court was upset and wanted to know by what authority Jesus did things. I don’t think they were concerned about his talking to trees growing alongside the road. Do you? The court knew that Jesus meant something of greater significance than a tree’s ability to bear fruit when he said, “May you never bear fruit again.”
Parable Puzzling Point #3 Why does it matter that the man had been trying to get fruit off that tree for 3 years?
Parable Puzzling Point #4 Why was the keeper of the crops (figs and grapes) so concerned about the fruitless fig tree that he vowed to give it all his effort and attention?
Parable Puzzling Point #5 Did the fertilization efforts produce or fail? If they failed, did the tree get the axe?
Let me ease your fears. You are not the fruitless fig tree in need of fertilization or felling!
Putting the pieces together.
Fig leaves represent man’s religious attempts at covering sin and the old covenant.
The vineyard represents Jesus and the new covenant.
Jesus, by this time, had been ministering for three years.
The members of the Jewish court understood that Jesus was symbolically referring to the sacrificial temple laws when he spoke of the fig tree, publicly declaring the completed end of temple sacrifices and rituals.
After the new covenant was ratified on the cross, making the old covenant completely obsolete it becomes the responsibility of each person to cut down the fig tree growing in our own lives. Those real estate consuming, death producing things that we have allowed to grow, firmly rooted in self-righteousness and false promises of life, love, purpose, and acceptance.
If you want your life to produce more of the fruit Christ intends, lay an axe to the root of your producer of fig leaves. Cut It Down!