Lowland Trees Planted in a High Desert …
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and 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, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’” (Lk. 13: 6-9, NIV).
Our subdivision has planted a number of new trees during the last couple of years. They’re doing this not so much because of environmental concerns, but because our subdivision is about 30 years old and the non-native trees that have been planted are reaching the end of their sustainable life in this native desert area. But still, they lived for many years with proper care. So, one of the regular sights this year, a year of drought, is the gardeners and their helpers loading up water from one of the fire hydrants and going around to water the newly planted trees in an effort to sustain them through this dry winter and to get them through to the season when water will come regularly, not so much from rain but from the sprinklers and irrigation for the landscape.
Environmentalists may take exception to all of this and ask the natural question: should we be trying to nurture a landscape of grass and trees that is mostly for pleasure and not for providing food in a part of the country that is naturally dry-land? I don’t know the answer to that. We are told in Scripture that we are to be “stewards” of the earth, but whether using our resources to provide a pleasant space to live and to play is a good use of those resources is beyond me. I guess I have voted that it is by living here, although that was not really a conscious decision. So much of our ethical decisions are made this way.
But I digress. I really wanted to talk about how the planting and watering of those trees reminded me of that strange passage in Scripture of Jesus and the barren fig trees … the need for attention to issues of the soil and roots in order for these trees to survive in barren land and in a time of drought.
It seems to me that you and I are living in a time of spiritual drought right now, and despite the many blessings of this land – it can still be a barren land. We have not been able to gather together to receive the blessing of living water and spiritual nutrition that fellowship with other Followers of Christ afford, we have had our core values of nationalistic pride challenged by misconduct during the presidential election, and the material blessings that we have become accustomed to in our robust economy have been threatened.
For some, this has not hampered their faith, but for others it has caused them to doubt, to waiver, and to question. Trees that once bore fruit are barren, young trees have ceased to develop and even older, mature trees have seen the fruit of their faith shrivel.
So what do we do? How do we dig around the roots and supply the water and nurture we need?
Some would say that this is an intellectual exercise and would encourage deeper study into the questions of the faith. I am not anti-intellectual, but that approach will not get to the ROOT of the problem.
Others, like the landowner, would say that it is the fault of the tree and simply abandon their faith.
But the Master Gardner knows that it is a problem that can only be addressed by living water and core nutrients. Only by digging around the roots, loosening the soil and adding nutrients and water will life return and the tree of faith to become faithful again. Living water and God’s love have to be re-introduced into the barren, worn-out soil.
So how do you do this in your life or the life of your loved ones?
Read, re-tell and re-encounter the stories of the Faith. Read the Creation stories not with the eyes of a scientist challenging every little bit of the story, but with the eyes of a child discovering that it was God who made the world … God who made us … and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made!”
Rediscover the deception of Satan and the poor choices of the first man and woman. See how a loving God continues to seek ways to connect with humanity despite our bad choices, how God gives us opportunities to re-connect time and time again. Read about the faith of our forbearers and the testimonies of praise and then …
See again how God’s love sent the Son to live with us and to be near us. How His presence in physical flesh and blood assures us that our Creator who is so much higher than you and me truly knows our struggles, and – how like a loving parent, God has stooped down to be on our level and to reassure us that we are loved.
Rediscover the reality that God’s love overcomes even the greatest of our fears, the fear of death and abandonment when we see a resurrected Jesus.
Encounter again Jesus’s promise that where He goes, we will go also.
In other words, to dig at the roots is to rediscover our faith … to retrace our own faith story and sink the roots of our soul in the Source of our Hope.
The barrenness in our spiritual lives is not an intellectual matter or even a situational problem … it is a matter of Faith. And like Thomas, the answer to our Faith problem is to re-encounter the source of our faith. And Paul reminds us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17, NKJV).
During the times of our spiritual drought, O Lord, we need to re-encounter You. We can read the texts, tell the stories and sing the songs, but faith will return only when we see You … touch You … experience again Your love. For this reason, O God, we draw near to You, that You might draw near to us. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains