It’s a known fact that I’m a big fan of figs: few things are better straight from the tree, and this year my tree (really more of a bush) is loaded.

Squash in the foreground, hungry holly to the rightThe tree is an offshoot from a turkey fig growing near the old house in Georgia where my grandmother used to live, and where I lived for the first four years of my life. North Carolina’s climate suits it well, though it would do even better if my neighbor’s tall holly bushes didn’t crowd out so much of the sun and space.

The warm winter and wet spring contributed to a bumper crop: the tree is loaded with smaller figs that will ripen in late summer, along with an appreciable early crop that is ripening now. My biggest problem is getting to the figs before the birds do: figs don’t ripen further after they’re picked, but as soon as they start turning brown, they get pecked full of holes, and the ants invade. 

That leaves me walking a fine line, watching the figs carefully and either eating holey fruit or picking them a day or so before they’re really ripe. They’re not quite as sweet and flavorful that way, but at least they’re intact, and still make for a happy snack.

I also like figs because they remind me that I have at least one thing in common with Jesus, who apparently loved them: the gospels include several stories in which Jesus was disappointed when he checked out a fig tree but found no fruit on it. Once, he was so ticked off that he cursed a tree, with remarkable results (Mark 11:11-14, 20-21). 

My favorite of Jesus’ parables is his story of a fruitless fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). When a landowner noticed a tree that had produced no fruit for three years running, Jesus said, he told his gardener to cut it down. Not ready to give up on it, the gardener asked the landowner to “let it alone” (the same word as “forgive”) for another year so he could dig around the tree and fertilize it with manure in hopes of kickstarting some fruit.

The parable is left open-ended, because it’s really not about a fig tree, is it? It’s about fruitless folk who face justified judgment but are offered the manurified mercy of a patient master gardener.

Could it be that the messy stuff of life could serve a purpose? Will we produce the kind of fruit that betters the world and honors God?

The end of the story remains open …

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