Last summer I finally got around to taking care of the dying ornamental cherry tree in our front yard. The problem? It had become infected with fungus that the good people who sold it to me said was a recurring issue with this kind of tree. I had tried cutting out the diseased portion visible on the trunk and treating its roots with fungicide. Like the tree of our text, the issue appeared as a “fruit” problem, but as I would later learn, was really a “root” problem (you can read the text for Lent 3 here). But the tree continued to look distressed and clearly wasn’t thriving. When the time came to switch the ornamental tree out for a shade-bearing alternative, I did. The maple sapling thrived in the spot while the cherry sat, root-ball exposed to the elements, ready to burn in our backyard. Then my wife Juli had an idea: “What would happen if we tried planting the cherry someplace else?” she suggested. It didn’t seem promising. If I’m honest about it, I really wanted to see the tree I had invested so much time and energy in (to no avail) go up in flames! But after scoping out a sunny spot in the backyard and making sure the soil would drain well to prevent rot, I placed the half-dead tree there. Several weeks later, during the warm fall we enjoyed last year, the tree put out a few confused green leaves. Now, as I write this, it is covered in buds that are ready to pop. Whether it sensed its imminent demise or not, I don’t know! But given a new location and the gift of “now,” the tree has responded. It appears ready to bear fruit.
Jesus knew how easily the natural world could be used to teach something about God and humanity…which is why he used the story of the fruitless fig tree given the gift of “one more year.” The owner of the vineyard had been looking for fruit where he should have found it, but had come up with nothing. He wanted the tree gone. The tree was taking up valuable space in the vineyard and producing nothing of value. But the vine-dresser intercedes. The vine-dresser asks for time. “Now” is a gift given to the tree (and to us) to take note of what the divine Vine-Dresser has done on our behalf. “Now” is an opportunity to draw on the gift of Life only Jesus can give. The grace period is short. The call is imminent. But the Jubilee Year Jesus came to proclaim would be one of forgiveness, restoration and second chances (4:19).
Lent is a special season for the people of God to repent: to turn away from the distractions of daily life and receive anew the gifts of the Divine Vine-Dresser in God’s Word and Sacraments. What fruit will be produced in you as a result? What fruit will be produced in others by the “gift of now” you give?