In 1900, Charles Gabriel published one of the most me-centered hymns of praise to be found in any hymnal. The song celebrates the glories of heaven for one whose “labors and trials are o’er,” leaving them “safe on that beautiful shore.”
The chorus imagines the glorious joy of being near to Jesus:
Oh, that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me,
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me.
It may sound sacrilegious to admit this, but I’d be satisfied if heaven has a good fig tree.
We had a fig tree in the back yard throughout my boyhood, and it produced an abundance of sweet brown turkey figs. They were delicious straight from the tree, and my mother always canned jar after jar of whole fig preserves in super-sweet sugary syrup.
Few treats are better than fig preserves on buttered toast.
I can hear the “Amens.” Some of you know.
Something like 25 years ago, I dug up a sprout from that same tree in my parents’ back yard and transplanted it to the very small strip of land beside our garage. The neighbor’s borderline holly trees overshadow it mightily, but the tree is stubborn.
It’s only 12 feet tall or so, but its branches contort themselves through twists and turns in search of sunlight. Limbs drag the ground and I prop them up. The tree faithfully produces not one, but two crops of figs every year.
We get a small batch in early July, then a much bigger crop from mid-August to early September. We enjoy them fresh or split and roasted with walnuts, a drizzle of honey, and if we’re feeling indulgent, feta cheese.
We can’t eat them all as they come in, of course, and figs don’t keep that well in the refrigerator. That’s where the fig jam comes in, which I make with less sugar than all the recipes call for. This year we dried a bunch of them in a small dehydrator, and Susan made some amazing fig chutney as well as some fig-infused balsamic salad dressing.
Until this year, I’d avoided making the whole fig preserves my mother used to make, mainly because of the sugar overload, and partly for fear of messing them up.
With meat scarce as hen’s teeth in our house the past few months, I’ve enjoyed getting to eat bread, which I generally avoided when my diet was closer to keto than vegan.
And eating bread means toast. And toast means fig preserves.
That’s how I figured it, at least.
You can’t make good fig preserves without sugar to create the syrup, but I reckon doing without bacon and barbeque should leave the door open for a few extra carbs.
I used less water and sugar than the recipe called for in making six pints of preserves, and I didn’t cook it down into the heavy syrup my mother preferred, so I had enough light syrup left over to fill two 12-ounce bottles with beautiful pink lusciousness.
Can you tell that I like figs? Genesis 3 claims they’ve been around since the Garden of Eden, though I can’t imagine making underwear from a fig tree’s seriously scratchy leaves.
When I get a chance to preach from Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9, I have been known to burst into song. If you remember “Food, Glorious Food” from the musical Oliver, you can sing along:
Figs, glorious figs, so tasty and healthful,
I’ll eat like a pig, just bring me a beltful –
Figs grow in the summertime, not in winter or fall,
Oh, figs, glorious figs, wonderful figs, fantastical figs, the best fruit of all!
My favorite thing about that parable is not just the figs, but that it’s full of manure.
A landowner noticed that a fig tree in his garden hadn’t produced fruit for three years, so he told the gardener to dig it up and plant something else lest the soil go to waste. The gardener urged the landowner to be patient with the tree – his appeal to “let it alone” for another year used a verb (aphes) that normally means “forgive.”
The gardener offered to dig around the tree and pile manure on it, mixing the natural fertilizer with the soil about the roots in hopes of seeing fruit when the next season rolled around.
It occurs to me that some of our most significant growth happens when we’re shaken to our roots or feel like we’ve been totally dumped on. When stuff happens, we can choose to let it get us down, or make it help us grow.
The purpose of Jesus’ parable was to remind his hearers that sin is real and so is judgment, but God is patient and offers more chances to repent than we deserve.
We don’t know if the “manurified” mercy led the fig tree to a more productive life or not. The parable is open-ended, because it’s not really about a fig tree, is it?
It’s about us, and how we respond not only to Jesus, but also to life.
Will the dung do it for us?
Time will tell.