The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put some manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”
The parable of the barren fig tree recalls the recurrent theme in the Old Testament of the barren made fruitful by the Lord’s direct intervention. . . . The expectation of the original hearers of this parable, then, would be that God will intervene and turn this wretched tree, that has not produced any fruit for three years, into a flourishing tree bearing a superabundance of figs. In the Old Testament, the fig tree was the symbol of God’s blessing and special love for God’s people.
The gardener suggests putting some manure around the ailing plant. A delicate touch! The text uses a more refined word, “manure,” but the actual meaning is closer to “dung.” Hardly a decorous word in religious discourse, but Jesus did not hesitate to use it. It adds a certain earthiness — if not outright pungency — to the story.
What are we left with at the conclusion of this parable? A tree that is good for nothing. The gardener offers to shovel manure around it, but there is no indication that any new growth will actually occur. This tree and its predicament are striking symbols of daily life, especially when our efforts to do good fail or seem to be fruitless, our prayer periods are as dry as dust, and nothing ever happens. In addition, there is no sense of God’s presence in daily life, no enlightenment experience, while our faults continue, people blame us unjustly, and disappointments multiply. Our spiritual life seems to be dead. What are we to do? The parable seems to say, just keep waiting.
— Thomas Keating in The Kingdom of God Is Like . . .
If God is patient with us. Maybe we are being asked to be patient with others. Is there anyone in your life right now who really tries your patience? If so, can you give them a little more time?
Love in Christ,
The writings of Fr. Thomas Keating are taken from Spirituality and Practice. The reflections are my own.
M.Rev. Ed Jansen is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Benedict and Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney is its Vicar General
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