Healthy Leaders


The Unfruitful Fig Tree

Chris WheelerChris Wheeler

Read: Luke 13:6-9

Colonel Johann Rall, commander of the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton, could have prevented his army’s defeat. While Washington and his troops were crossing the Delaware, a Loyalist handed Rall a note warning him about the attack. Rall, engrossed in his card game, put the note in his pocket and forgot about it. The next morning, he was shot while leading his men in retreat, the note still unopened in his pocket.

Procrastination doesn’t always lead to dire circumstances, but in today’s parable it becomes a matter of life and death. Luke 13 begins with members of Jesus’ audience bringing up recent bad news (vv. 1-5). Their intentions are suggested by Jesus’ response; they think that the Galileans’ deaths were part of God’s judgment on them. Jesus redirects the conversation to everyone’s urgent need for repentance.

The parable that follows is populated by several important images. Masters are used frequently to represent God, and plants or trees usually refer to a recipient of the word. The caretaker or steward often suggests a minister of the word. The caretaker’s intercession for the tree is reminiscent of Abraham interceding for Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33) or Moses for the people of Israel (Exodus 32:11-14 and 30-35). Notice that these particular intercessors received varying responses.

Jesus highlights three ideas. First, the tree was deficient, regardless of cultivation and plenty of time. Second, the caretaker’s request (v. 8) suggests that there is still hope even after years of fruitlessness. Third, a definite timeline exists, and if the tree does not produce within that timeline it will be cut down (v. 9).

Jesus delivers a strong warning to an unfruitful people – repent, for the time is short. He also leaves them wondering: will the master grant the tree one more year?

The patience of God is incredible (2 Peter 3:9). However, this parable reminds us that even though God tarries now, He will not tarry forever, and His judgment will be swift and warranted. Are you waiting for the “right time” to proclaim the Gospel to your friends and family? That time is now. Pray that God would give you urgency today.

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