For the first time in our lives, my wife and I have finally managed to keep two plants alive for two years. We bought one for our daughter and one for our son. We allowed them to pick the plants, along with the help of our local plant expert who identified both as low maintenance and hard to kill (one is in fact a cactus). We've tried--neglecting them on multiple occasions, but in each case, with little work, both were restored.
What I've found in my limited experience as a botanist, is that there is no middle ground for plants. They are always thriving or dying. When in good soil, appropriately watered (not too much, nor too little), correct amount of space and sunlight--plants do well. In fact--it is almost like they care for themselves, creating their own food stretching for the sunlight. When the plant is not thriving--you don't need a plant doctor to tell you something is wrong. Quite obviously the plant is dying. It droops, turns from vibrant green to brown it no longer reaches for the sun--and if it is a fruiting plant, it produces no fruit.
This week's Gospel lesson (Luke 13:6...) is Jesus' parable about the vineyard owner looking over a fig tree for the third year in a row to see that it continues to bear no fruit. Like I said, I'm no botanist. For this reason, I do not know an orange tree is an orange tree unless there are oranges on it. You can tell me that I have a cherry tree, but if it has no cherries, I'm not sure I will believe you. You might say, well its not the season for cherries--or well, your climate doesn't support the production of the fruit--but it is a cherry tree--even so I struggle to see it--for me cherries are what make cherry trees cherry trees. Apparently Jesus agreed. If the fig tree bears no figs, it is of no use--cut it down. Luckily for the fig tree, the gardener is not quick to despair--but Lord, give me one more year--let me tend to it--give it new soil--pay close attention to it--then if it bears no fruit, we will cut it down.
I believe the tree in this story are our ministries. The ministries of the church, the ministries we all take on personally. And during the Lenten season, it is time that we consider our ministries--look at the trees we've planted, watered, and cared for--are they bearing fruit? Are they thriving? No?--then its time to cut them down--or rather perhaps redouble our efforts truly commit to nurturing them this year in preparation for next year's evaluation. It is not enough that we work the garden--God expects fruit. God expects thriving. Anything less is death. The fig tree can claim to be a fig tree, but without figs... I'm not buying it, and neither is God.
"And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control," (Galatians 5: 22-23). Where these are not cultivated there is no Spirit; such ministries either require new focus and attention, or they need to disappear. Where is God calling you to garden this year?