Summary: Rian Adams: Parable of the landowner and the fig tree. Different intrepretation that places us at the center of the parable.
God Ain’t Mad ‘Atcha
The Rev. Rian Adams
There’s a question that troubles so many people. It’s a question that churchgoers and nonchurchgoers, struggle with; “Am I good enough for God?”
I can’t speak for you but at certain times in my life I’ve felt like my decisions, and my life choices drove God away. We carry the fear that God’s going to “teach us a lesson,” or worse, send us somewhere real warm.
This passage in Luke seems to offer a good biblically grounded argument for God’s frustration. In the parable, the land owner’s fig tree isn’t producing as he wanted. So, he gives it one last chance; then he vows to cut it down!
The way I usually hear this preached goes something like this, “If you don’t straighten up God will get tired of your sinful practices and make you pay for them.” I even checked sermon titles on this text, most mirror that idea. Here are some titles I found online; “Repent or Perish” “You're on Borrowed Time” and “Spiritual Dry Rot.” Not the most encouraging homiletical approaches.
I’m going to be bold today; I’m going to challenge that pervading view of God. We have to stand up against a theology of turn or burn because it undermines Jesus. He said God wanted love, mercy, grace, and compassion. God isn’t an impatient teenager who’s upset because the dog can’t learn a new trick.
God isn’t angry, that implies that our mistakes are strong enough to push God away.
So I had fun, and I named this sermon in honor of a famous 20th-century philosopher and musician… 2Pac Shakur; “God Ain’t Mad Atcha.”
If you allow me some creativity this morning, I’ll preach about the God of patience instead of a machete-wielding psychiatric patient ready to cut us down and throw us in the fire.
In light of that imagery, let’s jump into this story with both feet and have a look at each character.
There are three actors: The Landowner, the fig tree, and the gardener.
First, we have the landowner.
Now, he’s unique because he’s the man in charge. Classically we thought the landowner was God. I can understand thinking that way. God is in control, and God oversees us. But I have a different approach; what if the landowner is us?
I think this passage can teach us some unique lessons if we put ourselves at the center of the story. When we’re at the center, we can analyze the fig tree and the gardener.
The story opens with a vineyard owner planting a fig tree. This was a big discovery for me, maybe you noticed it; the writer says, “He planted a fig tree in his vineyard.”
Why? Why would a vintner plant a fig tree in his vineyard? He’s not running a fig farm! He’s a wine maker; he grows grapes, and he makes wine.
Yet, he’s planting a fig tree — A, singular.
It's a solitary tree surrounded by grapevines. The landowner planted the fig tree because he desired the personal luxury of figs twice a year.
But it didn’t quite work out for him. St. Luke says he waited patiently for three years. Each year he would carefully inspect the tree, turning leaves and looking for that one little bud. He wanted one hint that his patience would pay off.
Every time he went, he found nothing. Eventually, the disappointment got the best of him. He got mad – we’ve all been there, right? – and he decided to cut the fig tree down.
That’s the temptation, isn’t it? Just quit?
Now, here’s where the story gets close to home; the landowner looks more like us than he looks like God.
We are quick to get disappointed when we wait for growth, only to find a vacancy. We know the story, we pray, we wait patiently, we hope, but the tree still doesn’t do what we want.
The tree… the kids, the church, the neighborhood, The Episcopal Church, or even God.
Enter the second actor in the story:
If we're the landowner, we are the fig tree too.
Have you ever been judgmental of yourself? What if we tend to judge the fruitless tree inside us?
The landowner inside will say, “You’re not where you should be. You’ve had time to make it happen, and there’s no progress yet.”
(This sounds like the opposite of a Lenten sermon but trusts me, Lent is often liberation)
Here's something else I missed in prior readings; St. Luke says, he grew a fig tree, not that he planted a seed and waited.
I wonder if he pulled a fig tree up, cut some of the roots, moved it, and stuck it in his vineyard. When you cut the roots of a tree, it can stunt the growth.