Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"
Luke 13:6-9 (NIV)
Here, Jesus is teaching a group of people that just learned that Pilate allowed his militia to enter the synagogue and kill a group of Galileans who were offering sacrifices to God. This tragedy highlights the depravity of the human condition, shown in Pilate’s dispassionate permission of this act. It also highlights the providence of God in allowing this to happen.
This forces Christians to ask, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Jesus tells this parable to direct the attention of this tragedy away from Pilate’s cruel leadership and turn it instead to God’s desire that in spite of fault or crime, God is always after human repentance.
When God allows things to happen, He does it to inspire us to become better and lead more faithful, purposeful lives. Jesus illustrates this by showing the slow, spiritual pace of people who should have grown far more than their lives have shown and, He shows how we can be judged if our lives do not bear fruit.
Jesus shows that the same principles of the vineyard are to be transferred and applied to the human experience. Jesus teaches that our God is a patient God. God does not just cut us off when it is warranted. Instead, He overrules His own judgement and patiently waits in grace. God takes great efforts to take what is fruitless and help it to grow, even if it means to give it special attention. God is willing to do all of this to develop fruitful lives.
Every one of us is a beneficiary of a God who decided not to cut us off in our fruitlessness. Jesus is using the gardener in the parable to teach us the need to repent. Every one of us sits with Jesus under a fruitless tree, the unfulfilled ambition in our lives. We tell Jesus in our embarrassment, “Just cut it down. There are plenty of other trees that have grown.”
However, Jesus tells us, don’t give up on things in your life that are not yet producing fruit. When you offer Him faith, hope, and repentance, Jesus will help the fruitless parts of your life produce. Then, we will receive what God has for our lives in due season.