In today's Gospel story, the main topic is not someone but something: a tree – a tree that's not living up to its natural expectations. Some Gospel commentators think it's a fig tree, though Eugene Peterson, whose translation we often use at our Sunday liturgies, calls it an apple tree. The specific fruit of this tree doesn't matter as much as the condition of this tree: it's simply not producing what it's supposed to produce! And that's after the appreciable time and care given it. The tree's owner had it planted in his front yard, maybe to impress his neighbors, but instead he was finding it an embarrassment. So he instructed his gardener to cut it down. But the gardener pleaded with the owner to give the tree a little more time. The gardener promised to double his efforts to dig and loosen the earth around the tree and give it more fertilizer.
Now suppose this story is but an allegory that illustrates our human condition. We are the tree –any fruit tree you want to be: an apple tree, a fig tree, a banana tree, an orange tree. An interesting feature of this allegory is that we are also the “owner” of the tree. Yes, the owner! We are the tree planted in our own yard to produce, enjoy and share our fruit with other people. But we don't think much of ourselves. In fact we're often disappointed with ourselves and are prepared to give up because we're not living anywhere close to our potential. So far, this story is a downer, offering nothing but failure and rejection.
But then the gardener comes our way! Who is this gardener who pleads with the tree's owner to save the tree? Who is it who comes to our assistance? Who is it who wants to help us live up to our expectations? Just who are the gardeners in our lives? Think for a moment. Perhaps the gardener is a teacher who inspired us to discover a talent we knew nothing of, perhaps a spouse or family member who stands by us in time of great need, a friend who gives us strength and wisdom to get through an illness, or a perfect stranger who says just the right thing to us at just the right time. We have such gardeners in our lives, you know, someone who points out that we are indeed worthwhile people, unique, loved by God and appreciated by many.
We thank God for sending us these gardeners, whenever and however they come to us. There is a tremendous spiritual benefit in listening to what these gardeners are telling us. And there is a corresponding need to thank these same gardeners for pointing us to the marvelous silver linings in the darker clouds we all experience.
Yes, the God of second chances gives each of us yet another opportunity to get our lives right and bear good fruit: figs, apples, bananas, oranges in abundance! So whatever talents or fine personality traits we have, if we use them well and share them generously, we each and all can, with the grace given by our all-patient God, grow our tree to its full potential! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! AMEN!