Give Me Time...
Jesus told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, "Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?" "Sir," the man replied, "leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down."
Fergal Keane is a gifted broadcaster who worked with the BBC as correspondent for Africa and later for Asia. At a difficult time in his life he was in school at Presentation College in Cork and kept getting into trouble. He was, as he wrote later, always “mouthing off and playing the fool.” On one occasion he was suspended. The principal of the college, Brother Jerome Kelly called him into his office and told him that he had to make choices: he must stop messing and work hard, or he must leave the college, upset his family, lose his friends and have no qualification for future work. Fergal changed. Brother Jerome watched his progress. He put him on the debating team. He called him in every few weeks to ask how he was doing in class. He had fatherly conversations with him. Fergal said, “he went out of his way to help me grow up.” Fergal came to admire and respect Brother Jerome greatly. Many years later he asked him why he had worked so hard to keep him in school, and Brother Jerome answered, “That Fergal was a troubled boy.”
Notice how Fergal’s story fits in with this Gospel. The man had a fig tree in his garden. For three years it produced no fruit. He was a harsh man. He wanted results and was not getting them, so he decided to cut down the tree, why should it be taking up the ground? But there is another person in the story: the gardener who looks after the trees. “Give it one more year,” he pleads. He will give it special attention, and it may bear fruit then, if not the owner can cut it down. The gardener is caring but realistic too. He is not saying that the unsatisfactory situation can go on year after year. He asked for a limited time and a second chance.
In all walks of life there are people like the owner and the people like the gardener. There are parents who demand results from their children in a harsh way; there are business people who want profit regardless of what suffering this may cause to others; there are farmers who use the land to make money with no sensitivity to the needs of the environment. But there are people like the gardener: parents and teachers who give special attention to children who are misbehaving; they are patient and understanding, yet make firm and reasonable demands. There are employers who are compassionate towards their workers. There are gardeners and farmers who love the land and will cut down a tree only as a last resort.
Lent is a good time to think about the fig tree. We remember times when we needed to grow. We thank God for those who were there for us like the gardener, guiding and encouraging us gently and firmly. We look honestly at ourselves in the present time: we may have stopped living as generously and fruitfully as we once did; almost without noticing it, we may have settled for selfish and lazy ways. Lent may be a good time for digging and nourishing the soil in which we are planted.
Prayer Psalm 92
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to make music to your name, O Most High,
to proclaim your love in the morning
and your truth in the watches of the night.
Your deeds, O Lord, have made me glad;
for the work of your hands I shout with joy.
O Lord, how great are your works!
How deep are your designs!
The just will flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a Lebanon cedar.
Planted in the house of the Lord
they will flourish in the courts of our God,
still bearing fruit when they are old,
still full of sap, still green,
to proclaim that the Lord is just.
In him, my rock, there is no wrong.