“So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’”
I think we all share one or two experiences with fruitless plants. A few months ago I had to cut down a number of plants in my home garden. In the years they had been planted, they produced no fruit. In comparison to the other shrubs and flowers that were blooming in every direction with big white flowers, these plants were ugly fruitless creepers. One of the fortunate plants turned out to be a rose bush.
When I had first made up my mind to cut down every fruitless plant it fit the bill. But fortunately in the busyness of life, I forgot. When I finally got time to pick up my gardening tools, the rose had blossomed with beautiful petals that showered the grounds of my yard. The revival of the rose bush is the cornerstone of the message in Luke 13:7.
Scripture is full of many comparisons involving man and tree. The success or the end of a tree’s life is summarized by its production of fruit. In the same way, obedience to God’s divine will and holiness is the ultimate product of man’s life. When we plant trees, we naturally expect fruit and if at the age and season of fruit bearing we find nothing, then our disappointment is justified. In the same nature of men, it is then only natural for the maker of all to grieve when men bear no fruit.
During the days of Jesus on earth, it was customary to allow the fig trees a maximum age of three years to bear fruits. In case they failed to produce then the soil was put to better use. The gardener in the parable is the owner of the vineyard. Isaiah 5:7 refers to God’s people as the vineyard of the Lord. The individual trees in the vineyard represent you and I while Jesus is the keeper of the vineyard.
God truly desires for all the people to flourish in their journey of faith to bear the fruits of obedience and holiness. (John 15:5). However, this promise does come with a warning. Trees that bear no fruit are often cut down at the root and thrown into the fire.(Mathew 3:10). It is important to distinguish something. The tree in question will not be trimmed. It won’t be cut down on the limbs. The very roots shall feel the weight of the axe and the fruitless tree will fall.
Living on Borrowed Time
In the same way there is an appointed time for felling fruitless fruits, there is an appointed time for felling fruitless people. Have you ever heard the term, ‘living on borrowed time?’
We use it to explain the condition of a person with a terminal disease and they are still surviving. The term does refer also to a person who is given the legal judgement of capital punishment of death but yet the case is on appeal. It is a justification for the person who by all accounts and if everything functioned normally would be deaf and forgotten.
Come to think of it, that reality of ‘borrowed time’ represents all of us. The writer of Psalms puts it in these words, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This doesn’t refer to illegitimate birth but rather to our sinful nature. Like fruitless trees, we naturally edge towards sinfulness and disobedience to God. Our sinful disposition positions us to the command in Luke 13:7 – ” CUT IT DOWN!”.
It is more reasonable to fell fruitless trees, than to do otherwise. Think about it, the quickest and surest way of dealing with fruitless trees is the one which costs the least trouble. The owner of the vineyard gives a sharp remedy for the problem of unfruitfulness. He says, “cut it down!”.
To trench it, dig around it, to feed it, to water it and to prune the tree with the required care and attention is a long process. Unfruitful hearers of the words of Jesus to live repentant, holy and obedient lives are in the same boat.
At The Roots
You would realize that the same remedy used for the trees rids God of the presence of ungodliness and fruitlessness. With the axe set on the roots, there would be no more blasphemy. There would be no despising of scripture. And the Bible promises such an end to those who refuse to repent. This is a parallel of what happened in Genesis after humankind rebelled against God. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh.” (Genesis 6:3)
Do you argue that you are of greater importance than the fruit bearing tree? Losing a tree that bears fruit is a loss for the owner of the vineyard. And yet still despite having no sign of improvement, the Lord offers mercy in verse 8. God’s mercy shouldn’t be interpreted as insensitivity to our sinful ways. Jesus pleads with the owner of the vineyard to have the sinner spared. It is not because our fruitfulness is far from his observant eye. He could have easily destroyed and cut down the fruitless ones. All the Lord has to do is to ‘will’ it, and your soul will be required of you like the foolish rich man (Luke 12:16-21).
He is a Merciful God
You ask why then is it that God allows the sinful to loiter and fill the earth. Remember the words of the preacher in Ecclesiastes. “Because evil work is not punished quickly, many young men set their hearts to do evil.” God’s compassion and love for the world is the reason for Him to hold back the punishment. The ultimate universal gift that comes from God’s grace to humankind is time.
He gives us time to repent, time to turn around and receive His love. He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished yet, He is compassionate for the ‘time’ being. Our loving God will not punish until He cannot bear it any longer. His mercy doesn’t endure forever for everyone. I pray that His grace that has not shouted, “cut it down” cultivate and soften your hard heart that you bear fruits. Noah preached the message of repentance and faith in God for 120 years. And as lengthy as his patience was, it came to an end.
Let us take stock of our lives. Have we probably transitioned to the period that the vineyard keeper pleaded for us. He did that with the expectation that we will produce fruit. We might just have until God decides enough is enough. If there is provision of a second chance it is now! (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). Let us bear fruits now!
King James Version (KJV)
Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
New International Version (NIV)
So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’
New American Bible (NASB)
And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Look! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’
English Standard Version (ESV)
And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’
The Living Bible (TLB)
Finally he told his gardener to cut it down. ‘I’ve waited three years and there hasn’t been a single fig!’ he said. ‘Why bother with it any longer? It’s taking up space we can use for something else.’