“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard…” – I wonder what you think this story is about? Remember Jesus’ stories are typically about God and His relationship to us in some way. After three years a man finds no fruit on his tree. He tells his gardener to cut it down. But the gardener tells him to give the tree another chance. He is a hopeful gardener, doing his very best to make the tree produce fruit. Nevertheless, if the fertiliser doesn’t work and there’s still no fruit – it’ll then be cut down.
It is quite straightforward: the vineyard is Israel; the owner is the Lord God; the gardener is Jesus and the tree represents people, the Jews, whose lives haven’t produced a good harvest. In the OT, a fruitful tree was often used as a symbol of godly living. Today, God is coming looking to see whether our lives have produced a good harvest. Meanwhile, His Son, the patient gardener, says to the Father – “Wait, you’ve created them, see if they respond to me. Then they may begin to bear the fruit you want them to produce for your glory”. Therefore God, in love, gives us another chance. But He will not tolerate forever the failure of our harvest: If the tree “bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” (13:9).
The OT prophet Joel wrote not long after a terrible locust invasion had swept throughout the land and obliterated the crops. He compared this devastation to God’s judgement upon people who were like barren trees producing nothing for Him. By that he meant their empty rituals – going to worship but not really worshipping in spirit and truth with thankful hearts. However, if they repented, God would forgive them and restore His blessings to them abundantly: “The trees are bearing fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches…rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful.” (2:22,23).
So what is God looking for in us? Well let me tell you about apples, olives and grapes, because between them they hold the clue of how our lives can yield the necessary abundance – as well as showing how God is faithful and wants to help us produce a harvest of good things in our lives.
Adam was a gardener. He had responsibility to tend the fruit, vegetables and even the animals of Eden. There were all sorts of trees in the garden; beautiful trees that produced delicious fruit. Adam and Eve were told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but by eating the fruit from the tree of life they could have eternal life, enjoying a permanent relationship as God’s children. However, the devil being crafty deceived Eve into thinking that she could become like God.
The Bible doesn’t say it was actually an apple she took a bite out of. We get that idea from paintings and pictures like this. But it was tempting fruit nevertheless. The key thing – is it’s the fruit of choice. What’s your favorite variety of apple? There are so many from around the world to choose from. Some look tasty. Some look rather waxy! Some look as if they may be sweet but turn out quite bitter.
Adam and Eve were allowed to choose whether to love God or not. God never wanted to force His love on us and so it meant that ultimately they chose something that looked sweet, but is was bad for the, and for us and for the world which is a mess today with its failed harvests and unfair trade: “All creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth” waiting to be restored. (Rom.8:22). Christians must take all this seriously and own up to the truth that it is us who have caused it, not God. We still make the wrong choices today. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy and our decisions cause us pain and trouble. But living with the consequences of our choices also teaches us to think and choose more carefully in the future.
What’s more God is faithful and does not leave us in this mess without hope. Olives have been described as “little pieces of heaven” because they are packed with iron, minerals and vitamins that we all need. They are harvested and crushed to make olive oil. The frequent mention of this oil in Scripture indicates their value in biblical times.
It is in a real garden over 2000 years ago where God in the form of Jesus, knelt to pray. The Garden of Gethsemane, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, was an olive plantation. Gethsemane quite literally means “oil press”. Here Jesus chose to be crushed like the olives in that garden; crushed on the cross in our place for all the mess we caused. Jesus took on Himself all the bad that we had brought into the world so we can have the opportunity of a new start, a clean sheet, a fresh beginning – anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit.
However the devil uses everything in His power to prevent that relationship from forming and deepening. Nevertheless press on, because God wants this relationship very much. As I write in this month’s Contact, the harvest of your soul depends on it – for only those declared righteous will eat from the tree of life in heaven. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Furthermore, says Isaiah: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” (32:17).
Let’s be thankful for having knowledge of this future blessing! As Francis Ridley Havergal said in her hymn “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.”
Then there are grapes, which are very sweet and tasty and good for our health (which is why we sometimes take them to people in hospital). This is the fruit Jesus used to describe how we can be different. He says He is the vine -and if we choose to belong to Him we can start producing the good fruit of the Spirit:S love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control and faithfulness. We must know Him, love Him, remember Him, and imitate Him. This is the way we produce a harvest of good things, because the result is fulfilling the intended purpose of the law – to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. It’s so simple. It is this that makes the world the sort of place God it intended to be all along.
Apples, olives and grapes, or figs for that matter – all successful harvests need hard work and dedication. You reap what you sow: “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). The great blessing of eternal life is not something that we can take for granted. The “first fruits of your harvest” is to give the Lord your heart today and to strive to be with Christ when He brings the final harvest home.
The blessings of harvest and the peace of Christ be with you all.