As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.
A reading from the Gospel According to Luke
Then Jesus told a story. “A man had a fig tree,” he said. “It had been planted in his vineyard. When he went to look for fruit on it, he didn't find any. So he went to the man who took care of the vineyard. He said, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree. But I haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'
“'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year. I'll dig around it and feed it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' “
— Luke 13:6-9 (NIRV)
Many years ago, when I was in college, I worked in a nursery (the plant kind). I remember my boss, Mickey, telling me one day the definition of a weed. We were sitting in his office having pizza for lunch on one very hot Saturday. We were chatting about plants and landscapes as we looked at some trade magazines. He showed me a picture and said that it looked like there was a weed in the landscape. “A weed?” I asked. He pointed to a particular plant that didn't really fit into the overall scheme and said, “Yes. A plant growing where it doesn't belong. Even though a rose bush is beautiful in full bloom, if it's in the middle of an azelea bed, then it's a weed.”
A weed. You know, a fig tree in the middle of a vineyard.
Here's Jesus teaching His disciples–and us–through a parable (a kingdom truth wrapped up in an earthly example). This time He tells about a fig tree. A land owner grows a vineyard. Somehow in the midst of this field of grapes, a fig tree gets planted. But, it's not a particularly good fig tree. It's been there–taking up space in the vineyard–for three years, and there are no figs. The owner of the vineyard tells his laborer to cut it down and plant more grapes. But, the farmer, seeing potential, says, “Give me a year. If there are no figs next year, I'll cut it down.”
Jesus is, in essence, telling the disciples that there is a weed in this man's vineyard. He intended to grow grapes, and instead he has a poor excuse for a fig tree.
But, his laborer sees something else. Maybe it's all of the grape vines that are out of place.
The laborer tells the owner, let me care for this “weed”. Let me clear the ground under it. Let me water it. Let me spread some donkey manure around it. If it produces fruit, then great! If I fail, then ok, I'll cut it down.
The laborer sees the potential for the fig tree to produce figs, and, consequently, more fig trees. Yes, it will take a lot of years for the vineyard to become a fig orchard, but there is potential for that to happen.
Do you know a fig tree in a vineyard? That person in whom you see potential to turn the entire vineyard into an orchard? Are you willing to take the time to disciple that person? To prune them? To fertilize and water them? To help them reach their potential?
That's discipleship. Helping someone reach their God-given potential.
Let's look at this same story from the owner's perspective. He has a laborer who has a plan. The laborer has a fifty-fifty shot at this plan working. It could be a bust. In which case, the owner will have spent money on water, fertilizer, and man hours to no positive outcome. But, if this hair-brained scheme works, then consider the possibilities.
Do you know this laborer? That person whom you have been discipling that has an idea that could either be hair-brained and work, or brilliant and fail. Will you release them to try? Will you father them if it fails?
That’s leadership. Helping someone reach their God-given potential.
A thousand grapes.
The wise owner will say, “Laborer, I don't know if what you're proposing will work, but…”
The wise laborer will say, “Owner, I know it makes sense to cut down the tree, but…”
A rose in an azelea bed is a weed. But, a bed of azeleas in a rose garden is also a weed.
You can choose to cultivate the fig tree, or cut it down. But, in only one scenario are you helping the fig tree reach it's God-given potential.
Let me challenge you–us. That person who has all kinds of potential but seems impossible, may just need someone to say, “Go try it. If it works, I'll rejoice with you. If it fails, I'll be here to help you.”
What if, we all said that–and meant it–to one another?