Gospel - Luke 13: 6-9
And Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”
Written by Dan Faas
Admissions Coordinator, The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program
This is a great message to hear at this point in the school year, a perennially difficult time for educators everywhere. Indeed, February is the month when even the most masterful teachers and school leaders can have doubts about their own performance:
After countless remedial classes, a student’s test scores might still be low. Even into February, classroom management might continue to be an issue. Despite everyone’s best efforts, enrollment might not have increased.
This is where we’re tempted to give up—“Maybe it’s better just to get this student through the year, and hand them off to the next teacher.” “Maybe the best we can do is go into 'survival mode' for the next few months.” "Maybe the school should close.” This expectation on us to produce fruit—be it in the form of high test scores, enrollment growth, or otherwise—can weigh us down and tempt us to give up, to just start from scratch.
But in this Gospel passage Jesus reminds us: There are always reasons for hope.
The parable of the barren fig tree presents Jesus as the patient and ever-hopeful gardener, not wanting to abandon a tree that still might bear fruit, even in the face of a practical or expedient solution. When instructed to “cut it down,” Jesus protests. He sees something in the tree that no one else does. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus subverts our own image of God as an impatient, intolerant perfectionist. Even though the property owner would be entirely justified in cutting down the tree, the gardener—Jesus—urges him to wait just one more year. Let’s see how things go–and let’s wait and work in hope.
As Christians, we are all called to bear fruit, but of a different kind. God expects from us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). While often these fruits spring up in our schools and communities with little prodding or tending, they can sometimes be difficult to find—and tending to them can be slow, tedious or impractical.
Jesus, the source of our hope, reminds us that in seemingly fruitless times, God not only chooses to remain with us, but tends to us with loving kindness and mercy, “cultivating” and “fertilizing” the people, communities, and institutions around us. Today, let’s ask God: “What fruit am I called to bear?” and in so doing, let us seek from him the grace to reflect his own patience and mercy to those entrusted to our care.