During my childhood I lived in several different houses and each had a fig tree somewhere in the back yard. Once I moved beyond youthful perceptions about the look and texture of figs, I looked forward to their late summer fruiting.
Fig trees seem to have been around forever. Five centuries before Jesus was born an Assyrian sage told a story about a fig tree that had never fruited. Despite the tree’s pleas the owner decided to cut it down and replace it. The story, with variations, wound its way around generations of storytelling people.
Eventually Jesus himself retold it, but he changed the ending, giving the tree another chance to produce fruit. (Luke 13: 1-9) Two thousand years later another storyteller, Father Edward Hays (1931 – 2016), put his own spin on it. It read something like this:
While the gardener is manuring that unfruitful fig tree, he talks to it. The tree responds, because after all this is a story. The tree confides that she is not at all impressed at being just an ordinary, everyday fig tree. She would much prefer to be something more exotic. So she had put all her energy into becoming an apple tree, but nothing happened.
Then she tried to will herself into being a banana tree. Again no luck, so she made enquiries about the possibility of a graft or two and becoming a banapple tree.
In desperation she creatively considered something truly unique- maybe she could be a travelling tree, able to move around the world, stopping each night to rest her roots in some nice, deep soil. The drawback she felt, was how hard it would be to walk on her roots.
Bit by bit, as she faced her failure to be different, she fell into deep depression.
All this time, as she talked, she is holding her nose high in the air because she objects to the smell of the manure. As the gardener digs around her roots he points out that down there , in her roots, are her dreams, her history, her desires and possibilities, her memories of the long line of fig trees she came from.
Gently he suggests that maybe her energies are being directed in the wrong place and even though the manure might smell a bit it is necessary if she is to mature and become the fig tree she was born to be. And, in passing, he reminds her, she only has a year.
The fig tree thinks about what the gardener has said. She had so wanted to be something different, not just another fig tree. But maybe she had been looking in all the wrong places, maybe the answer lay within her. She decides to try putting her energy into letting whatever is in her roots flow upwards into her branches and mature into ripe figs.
That evening, as the gardener passed by on his way home the fig tree stopped him. Taking a deep breath she announced, “I’ve decided. I think I’ll be a fig tree.”
Over the years I’ve come to recognise that I drift into being that fig tree. I lose sight of what is God’s dream for me and try to produce whatever might be my equivalent of bananas. And when that happens my Gardener God digs around in my life, disturbing my roots and tipping some unwanted manure my way so that I can produce – figs!