Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Spreading manure

The time changes tonight. The Saturday 6 p.m. worship service at King of Peace will be on the current time. Then we will spring ahead one hour overnight before our 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. worship. Now back to our usual program:

In tomorrow's Gospel reading Jesus tells this parable:
"A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
The Rev. John J. Pilch of Georgetown University has written of this parable,
The Palestinian fig tree bears fruit ten months of the year, and so one can reasonably expect to find fruit at almost any time. The time sequence regarding fig trees is this: first, the tree would have three years to grow after planting. The fruit of the next three years is considered forbidden (see Lev 19:23). The fruit of the seventh year is considered clean and ought to be offered to the Lord (Lev 19:24).

The owner in this parable has come seeking fruit for three years, hence it is nine years since planting, and the situation begins to look hopeless. He rightly urges that it be rooted out, but the gardener urges “mercy,” give the tree yet another chance.

Keep in mind that the parable is not about trees but about the nation's leadership. The gardener's proposed remedy for the tree's problems reflects Jesus' mastery of “insult humor.”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus, the authentic Mediterranean native, resorts to insults on a regular basis, and they are always gems. The gardener might have proposed new soil for the tree, or increased watering.

Instead he proposed spreading manure on it. Jesus' original peasant audience undoubtedly roared with laughter. This is just what those #)%!@* leaders need!

Moreover, in Aramaic there is a wordplay between “dig it out” and “let it alone” (also the word for forgiveness), which makes the parable and its point very easy to remember. Judgment (dig it out)? No, mercy and forgiveness (let it alone)!

figsThe tree cannot lift itself by its roots. They (the leaders) need the intervention of an outsider, the gardener, God himself!

Dedicated reformers are often so focused on the evils to be exterminated that they neglect the need for personal reform as well. This is as true of all as it is of leaders. This is the point Luke's Jesus makes in today's masterful cluster of readings. The passage is beautifully appropriate to Lent. It needs no further comment.



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