I have been a gardener my whole life. I learned the skill from working beside my mother and grandmother when I was a young child. We had BIG gardens to feed a family of 7, plus my grandma who lived with us. At the end of the summer, we canned and froze lots of vegetables and fruits putting them by for the cold Minnesota winter.
So today’s Gospel reading about the fig tree planted in the orchard makes a lot of sense to me. As a gardener, I have often struggled with whether to get rid of a plant that was not bearing fruit as it should. Should I give it a second chance or should I yank it out and put something else in its place?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of a man with a similar gardening problem. He has a fig tree that is not producing and tells his gardener to cut it down, so it doesn’t continue to ‘exhaust the soil.’ The gardener disagrees, saying in reply, that if left for this year, he will work the ground around it and fertilize it and it ‘may bear fruit’ in the future. Isn’t that what God does for us? The God of second chances places people, places, events, sacraments in front of us, so we too can have another chance when we sin. Our job is to take advantage of those things that can be grace-filled for us and bring us back into the presence of God after we stumble and fall.
What was Jesus telling the people? We all sin. The Galileans who died were not any greater sinners than the people asking him questions. Jesus’ answer to repent and be saved points to the fact that our God is a God of second chances (and third and fourth and fifth chances in some cases!!) In our first reading, God tells Moses he has heard the cry of ‘his people,’ the Israelites, against their Egyptian enslavers and he will come to their rescue and bring them into a ‘land flowing with milk and honey.’ And as we know from ’the rest of the story’ the Israelites sin, fall and grumble many times when they are led out of Egypt and into the desert. Sound familiar?! But although God sounds like He would like to give up on them, he always relents and forgives them and rescues them from themselves.
Today’s readings reminded me of the theme from St. Pope John Paul II writing, Go In Peace. “To learn who the Father is means learning what absolute trust is. To learn the Father means acquiring the certainty that He does not refuse you even when everything—materially and psychologically—seems to indicate refusal. He never refuses you.” Does that mean we get what we want every time we pray? Nope…but absolute trust in God means we know we are getting what we need because our God wants good things for us, even though that doesn’t always seem like what we need/want.
So next summer when you want to cut down that apple tree, maybe it just needs a little cultivation and fertilization... another chance, just like you and me!!