Daily Reflection
October 23rd, 1999
Shirley Scritchfield
Institutional Research & Assessment
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Romans 8:1-11
Psalm 24:1-6
Luke 13:1-9

When I first read today’s gospel lesson, I wanted to go ask Maureen and Andy for another date—another set of scriptures.  Historically, the gospel scripture has troubled me.  And, I certainly didn’t want to try to reflect on it publicly.

This scripture taps into my childhood memories of attending revival services with my grandparents—memories to this day that haunt my head and heart.  I can still hear the preacher pounding on the podium, painting a picture of a wrathful God—complete with hell, fire and brimstone.  I feel the fear, the dread, the struggle to be perfect so as not to engender this “loving” God’s wrath—and the failure and guilt that accompanied my inevitable inability to live up to that standard, made worse by my sense that at any moment God would strike me down.
So, in today’s scripture, when Jesus first tells the crowd to repent or they too will face death—and then follows that with the parable of the unfruitful fig tree, I could feel the echoes of those images from long ago.  You remember this parable, don’t you?  The fig tree has not born fruit for 3 years—a very long time to be unproductive in a world of scarce agricultural resources.  So, the owner of the vineyard orders that it be cut down.

Of course, in this parable, you and I are fig trees.  How well do we produce the fruit we ought—the fruit God intended us to bear?  I can point to a hundred and one ways I fall short.  How about you?  Are we soon to feel the ax cutting away at our feeble trunks?  That’s the message I heard as a child—and the message that many take from this scripture.

But, wait, the vineyard keeper intervenes.  The sad little fig tree that has done a poor job of bearing fruit gets another chance.  The keeper offers to provide more nourishment, more care—in hopes, that maybe, with more tending loving care it will bear the fruit intended.  But, then, the reprieve may be only temporary.  According to the scripture, the keeper is given only a year to get that little tree into shape—or, it will be cut down.

A-ah, there go those echoes again.  Shape up or ship out gospel.  But, wait, when we go back to the original language we find the keeper literally says to the owner, “If it bears fruit in the future (not next year, but in the open-ended future)…and if not, well you can cut it down.”  There was no definitive timetable set.  The keeper expresses a willingness to come back again and again, year after year, digging, fertilizing, watering, and tending to that fruitless tree.

The preacher in my childhood memories undoubtedly would say that God is represented at the owner of the vineyard.  But, I don’t think so.  I don’t believe God ever gives up on us.  No, I think God is the keeper—the gardener.  God is the one who wants more than anything else to make it work, to give it one more chance.  God is the one who keeps trying…and trying…and trying to get through to us…to help each of us become all we were created to be.  That, my friends, is the endless love of our God…and that is the GOOD NEWS!  Thanks be to God.

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