Just So Much Manure–Justo Gonzalez on The Barren Fig Tree

My new church puts quotes on the front of the worship bulletins each Sunday, and since I’m preaching this Sunday I was asked if I’d like to supply one. As exegesis would have it, I had just wrapped up a little jaunt through some Biblical commentaries on the week’s sermon text when the request came, so I was ready with this:

“Could it be that our own abundance has been given to us in an effort to lead us to bear fruit, to share those resources, to share of ourselves?”

That’s from Justo Gonzalez’s terrific Luke Commentary in the “Belief, A Theological Commentary on The Bible” series published by Westminster John Knox Press. 

It’s not the best quote I could have used, either. I kinda chickened out.

This week’s lection includes the parable of the barren fig tree from Luke 13. If you’re not familiar, it’s a story Jesus tells about the owner of a vineyard who has a fig tree growing there and who, after three years, is fed up with its lack of fruit. He instructs his gardener to cut it down. It’s taking from the soil and not producing anything.

But the gardener pleads with the owner to give him one more year to care for the tree, dig around it, throw some manure on it, and then, if its still fruitless, the owner can cut it down. Tree saved. For a year at least.

Gonzalez reads this as a story about privilege (his commentary was published in 2011, before “privilege” was the ascendant topic du jour among social commentators and academics). He points out that the barren fig tree is privileged with extra resources and attention not because it earned those things but because it requires them.

“The tree that has produced no fruit receives extra attention and added fertilizer, not because it is so good, but rather because it is so poor. The fig tree is receiving special care because it has yet to give the fruit it was meant to bear.”

Privilege=an accommodation given to those who would flounder without it.

His analysis concludes with this whopper, which, had I more courage, I would have put on the front of this week’s bulletin:

“Could it be that the reason why some of us have been given all these advantages is that otherwise we would have great difficulty bearing fruit? Could it be that all these things of which we so pride ourselves are really just so much manure, piled on us because otherwise we would be such lousy fruit trees?”

I’m going to let that one sting me for awhile.

Advertisements