738: I think God is the gardener.
Day 738: Thursday, March 24, 2022
I think God is the gardener.
I have a fig tree in my backyard. It’s a Mission Fig. The tree has been in the ground for three years and hasn’t produced any fruit.
About a month ago, I stood with Antonio in my garden and said,
What’s the matter with this Mission Fig? Pull it up and toss it into the green bin. It’s not giving us any fruit.
And, as if following a script, Antonio said,
No Padre, let it go another year.
I will give it a little chicken manure.
Antonio is a patient man. More patient than I am. There is little he doesn’t know about fruit trees and vegetables and grapes. So, I said,
Okay, give it another year – but please fertilize it.
I hope you can understand why I laughed out loud when I read the last part of today’s Gospel.
And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
In this parable, I suppose lots of people will think that the man who owns the fig tree is God. God is impatient with His useless people. I don’t think this is correct. I think God is the gardener. I am the guy impatient with the fig tree that isn’t bearing fruit.
I am the one who is in despair, and God is the one who hasn’t lost hope in the world that isn’t producing fruit.
Despair seems to be gripping all kinds of people today. Despair makes us surly and uncooperative. In the worst days of the pandemic, I smiled (behind my mask) at a
check-out clerk at the grocery store and said to her,
“I want to thank you for working.”
She teared up and told me about a customer who got unruly earlier that day when she asked him to put on a mask.
This is not a display of manly honor and freedom. This is despair.
Mr. Putin is lying about “Nazis in the Ukraine” and lots of people are eager to believe him. This passion for lies and for defending “Holy Mother Russia” is a sign of despair as well.
Saint Augustine knew a lot about despair. In 410 AD, he saw the city of Rome sacked by barbarians. I think it safe to say that this was a bigger shock to the people of his day than the atrocities of 9/11 were to us. And yet, when he reflected on his life in his Confessions, he wrote a prayer that should be on our lips these days.
Do not abandon what You have begun in me,
but go on to perfect all that remains unfinished.
Augustine’s prayer helps to explain why I am not ready to talk very clearly about despair. As your priest, I want to comfort you, of course. But, in the end, I have to challenge you as well. Put your despair aside. There are plenty of good reasons for abandoning hope as the world comes apart at the seams.
But we don’t have time for despair. We are being called to be of service to those around us. We are here to give hope to those who are in despair.
So, I am giving you Augustine’s prayer today as a gift. Jot it down and put it by your toaster so you see it in the morning. Pray to God that He not abandon what He has begun in you. Pray to God that He might “go on to perfect all that remains unfinished” within you.
Don’t be confused by your despair: you are a work in progress.
I went out this morning to look at my Mission Fig. Antonio, my wise and patient gardener, has cultivated the ground around it and fertilized it, just like in Jesus’s parable. Now spring has come to the Valley, and the tree is pushing out leaves. Just below the leaves, I counted ten little buds that, by summer’s end, will ripen into figs.
Put your despair aside. Be patient with the world and be patient with yourselves. Pray to God that He not abandon what He has begun in us. God is bringing to perfection all that remains unfinished.
- Reflection by Jim Fredericks