In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this passage from Luke, Jesus teaches us to reject hasty or premature judgments, and to wait for God to work.
Luke 13: 6-9 (CEB); Give it One More Year
“Jesus told this parable: ‘A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’
The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’” (CEB)
The story of the fig tree is often treated as a parable about repentance. The owner of the tree is disgusted with his tree’s poor showing, and is ready to proclaim final judgment. He’s all about efficiency; a fig tree that doesn’t produce fruit is of no value. “Get rid of it,” he orders. His brave gardener pitches an idea that may make the tree fruitful. “Hold up! Not so fast. Give me more time. Let me put some manure on this tree. And then let’s watch for results.”
In As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Eugene Peterson takes a another slant on this passage. He calls this parable the “manure study” because it’s all about enriching a life to enable it to fruition later. He comments that there is no sense in pushing something or someone whose time has not yet come.
Most of us want things done in a timely way – our way. We want the traffic to move faster, a meeting to begin and end when it is supposed to, a child to learn to talk as soon as possible, a marriage to be as rich now as it will become after decades of life together, a disease to heal quickly and permanently. Peterson points out that God isn’t into quick fixes nor does God work on our time-table.
I believe that we Christians need to take the gardener’s advice more often. We need to say “Let’s put some ‘manure’ on this instead of giving up.” For example:
- We want church attendees and members to become disciples ASAP. We want disciples to be transformed into Christ-followers just as quickly. Instead we need to talk about enrichment and experience and growth over the years. Spiritual formation is not a quick fix; it is a lifetime endeavor fertilized by pain, struggle, and surrender in community over time.
- We want quick results from our mission efforts. Call on your neighbors, invite them to church, encourage their kids to attend Sunday school. Voila! A conversion may result. We forget that the disciples interned under Jesus for three years and, even then, didn’t know who he really was. A steady walk with another person through thick and thin, triumph and tragedy, growth and relapse is more productive than just calling them to conversion. Manure is a slow solution, Peterson says. So is growing a Christ-follower.
- Church programs for discipling people need time to flourish. We don’t uproot a plant because it only buds and hasn’t yet blossomed. Nourishing an idea or a person is a slow and steady process. Adapting every new discipleship fad or changing direction with every new pastor is the equivalent of chopping the tree rather than offering manure. .
Peterson says, “Luke ensures that we pay attention to the response Jesus makes to strategies of impatience like ‘Chop it down’ by commanding ‘Let it alone.'” Who or what in your life needs the patience of Jesus and the strategy of letting it alone?
♥ Maybe you are frustrated with emotions, habits or behaviors that are not worthy of a Christ-follower. Try being patient with yourself; stop listening to your inner voice of criticism and judgment. Gift yourself with the presence of the Holy Spirit through silence and solitude. Read the stories of Moses, Elijah, David, Peter, or Paul. Learn from their struggles and growth.
♥ Is there a person with whom you are aggravated or frustrated or angry – someone you would love to change? Stop trying. Give the person the nutrients of your forgiveness, your compassion, your patience, and your love and watch the relationship grow.
♥ Is there a project you are working on that just is not coming to fruition. Stop pushing. Start listening. Reflect. Evaluate. And then come back with renewed insight – or consider relinquishing the project.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“We are used to our spiritual leaders motivating and energizing us into action for God and God’s kingdom. But this manure story is just the opposite. There are occasions when non-doing is commanded, times when restraint is called for. The manure story is all about being patient with God. God is not in a hurry. . . .The manure story interrupts our noisy, aggressive problem-solving mission. In a quiet voice, Jesus (the gardener?) basically says, “Hold on. Not so fast. Wait a minute. Give me some more time. Let me put some manure on this tree” (Eugene Peterson in as Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 252-253).