When fruit trees don’t bear fruit, what’s the problem?
Do you have an apple tree that hasn’t produced fruit, or a berry bush with no berries? There are several reasons why fruit trees or shrubs may not bear fruit, but you can sift through the alternatives and hopefully find an answer to your particular problem.
Then He began telling them this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree that had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, but did not find any; so he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and have found none. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground [depleting the soil and blocking the sunlight]?’ But he replied to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, [just] one more year until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit after this, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
LUKE 13:6-9 AMP
In this story, we find two men — one seemingly in authority and another who is seemingly under authority, if we go simply by our worldly understanding of property owners and hired workers. But it is the man who is seemingly in authority, and who is initially giving commands before knowing or asking the reason “Why…” who does in fact ask his hired vineyard-keeper the question of “Why?” And it is the seemingly wise and understanding vineyard keeper who does not just see the facts of the moment, but the opportunity of the future for this fruitless, seemingly useless fig tree.
Before we start making one of these in order minds into a hero and the other into a villain, which seems to be a natural progression of our minds — let’s think about the two men and their positions of responsibility and attention.
I find that a key component here is not that the vineyard owner is spiteful or wrathful towards the tree, but that he recognizes the value and resources of the land that he owns, and in his mind, I believe that he wants to manage those resources wisely and responsibly. His view and area of responsibilities is probably over many things other than this one vineyard, as he is the owner and has a hired man who is responsible as the vineyard keeper for this particular vineyard. He prompts the one who is tending the vineyard — the one who knows these trees and plants in his vineyard most closely and personally — about the apparent uselessness of this fig tree. He says he has come 3 years looking for fruit and has found none.
And he says, cut it down, why does it use up the ground and resources and provide nothing back in turn. It doesn’t seem that he has any malicious intent or ill will towards that particular tree, but his goal is to see his land and resources used widely to bear fruit. He sees a fruitless tree as a parasite upon the land, using up its resources but never giving back what is expected of it.
But it is the worker, the man seemingly under authority who offers a solution. And in this solution, he offers a talkin ot possibility to the land owner. What was seemingly a worthless, useless tree — he speaks of the opportunity of it beating fruit in just one more year. This would seem more practical, the opportunity of fruit in just one more year, than tearing it down, planting and waiting for another to grow to fruit bearing maturity. And the vineyard-keeper wouldn’t be very good at his job if he made a habit of keeping worthless plants around forever, so we expect that it is not blind hope that he has for this fig tree, but that he is close enough to it to see and know something about it that tells him this is not just a parasite, a waste, but an opportunity.
And I think that it is pretty amazing that some of the best opportunities before us come from not just being aware and prepared for the moment, but recognizing the opportunity and being bold enough ti step in, take ownership and do our best in that moment of opportunity. Imagine the opportunity that this offers come next year, when the vineyard owner returns — he will see that the vineyard-keeper was willing to put in extra work on behalf of the opportunity. Even if there was no fruit then, he could say to his worker, “Thank you for trying even harder all this past year, when it would have been less work for you to just cut it down and cast it into the fire.” The is an opportunity for praise and appreciation, even in their reaching a point of unity in finally giving up on this tree.
But… what if…
What if, the plea of the vineyard-keeper process itself fruitful and useful. Wouldn’t the owner get what he actually wanted in the first place? Fruit! And wouldn’t the wisdom of his vineyard keeper and his willingness to work even harder on behalf of the owner be a cause for praise and maybe even celebration? Yes, if the goal was fruit, then the man in authority would be happy ther next year for sure!
But let’s stop for a minute, because we may have assumed the “right heartedness” of these two a little too much. What if the owner was more interested in handing out commands, being in charge, and always being right? I wonder if that were the case why he would asked the question why and allowed a response seems an explanation. Many in positions of authority may find themselves ruling from on high, passing down commands, squashing dissent, and never listening to valuable input that might help from training down opportunities that just need a little extra attention rather than having to start over from scratch.
And some wrong hearted people who are under authority do not care to listen closely to those over them and to understand the actual need and reason behind a discussion rather than just resent the “command”. Many are not willing to take upon themselves “more work” than would normally be expected in order to possibly bring more value to the table. Many are just looking for the easiest way through the day and path of least resistance, missing opportunities to shine, to thrive, to excel — uninspired and settled in their complacency and the fruitlessness of their own lives.
I’m glad this man in authority was willing to listen, and this man under authority was willing to offer more than what was expected. Just think if we would behave in this manner in all of our relationships with one another, how much more fruitful things would go fir everyone. Husbands and wives, parents and children, supervisors and workers — leaders and peoples could benefit greatly from regimes that are not oppressive and cooperation that is productive and unified and selfless.
I wonder how many of us can look to areas of our own lives where we have been more like a parasite — whether from a position of authority or subjection — we just haven’t been hearing fruit into those circumstances like we should have been.
I find it interesting that this story of a fruitless tree in verses 6-9 of Luke 13 is right after the call to repentance of verses 1-5, and is followed by Jesus healing on the Sabbath, then by a parable and teachings on the Kingdom of God.
Let’s look at 10-17 to see a contrast between wrong hearted and right hearted:
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had an illness caused by a spirit (demon). She was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are released from your illness.” Then He laid His hands on her; and immediately she stood erect again and she began glorifying and praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work ought to be done; so come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord replied to him, “You hypocrites (play-actors, pretenders)! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead it away to water it? And this woman, a daughter (descendant) of Abraham whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As He was saying this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things that were being done by Him.
LUKE 13:10-17 AMP
These Pharisees thought themselves to be in authority in this situation. They thought that they were in a position where they could command and judge without question. They saw themselves as vineyard owners who would have given the command “Cut her down! Cast her into the fire!” Without asking “Why?” If we look back to verses 1-5 where Jesus was calling for repentance, we can get some insight into where they would have been coming from:
Just at that time some people came who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate [the governor] had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus replied to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they have suffered in this way? I tell you, no; but unless you repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways and live changed lives], you will all likewise perish. Or do you assume that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed were worse sinners than all the others who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways and live changed lives], you will all likewise perish.”
LUKE 13:1-5 AMP
Some (if not all) of these Pharisees would have thought this woman that Jesus healed was bent and afflicted because of her sin allowing the demonic influence to affect her, and that her bent state was a reflection of God’s judgment upon her as compared to what they saw as their own upright and righteous outward assurance that they thought reflected God’s favor and honor upon them. They would have asked, why are our resources wasted on worthless people like her, who bring no value into the community.
We see mindsets throughout history, where the handicapped, the elderly, the weak — where those with challenges are considered cast asides within society — considered more trouble than they are worth. There have even been (and still are nations) that would consider themselves “civilized” who have put down or sterilized their unwanted — even those who kill them in the womb rather than allow them to become a burden and parasite, using up resources that are “better spent elsewhere”. Seemingly reasonable individuals have made seemingly justifiable decisions about avoiding others in all kinds of ways because of their differences. Yes, this is the world we live in, and if you’ve only thought of other names to point a finger at up until this point, when was the last time you had them at your table?
In one more chapter ahead in Luke 14, we will read about Jesus still showing of the Sabbath and he will explain:
Now Jesus began telling a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been selecting the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down [to eat] at the place of honor, since a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by the host, and he who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your place,’ and then, in disgrace you proceed to take the last place. But when you are invited, go and sit down [to eat] at the last place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; and then you will be honored in the presence of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled [before others], and he who habitually humbles himself (keeps a realistic self-view) will be exalted.” Jesus also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or wealthy neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a banquet or a reception, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (the just, the upright).”
LUKE 14:7-14 AMP
I wonder how infrequently fruit of this type has been evident upon our tree: “But when you give a banquet or a reception, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you” — has it EVER been found upon your tree? Does this sound like any dinner or banquet you’ve ever had at your home? Or even at your church? Probably not, unless it was some intentional benefit for “their cause” where you patted yourselves on the back for helping them by letting them sit with you for a meal and writing a check to some organization so they can again be sent off ti be given away from sight and mind until conscience bothers us again.
Yes, we all need to repent in this area I believe. I believe that it is so natural in our sinful nature to exclude what appears different — that we must be intentional in this area until that is reversed to the point that we not just see useless people and parasites that are using up our resources — but that we begin seeing opportunities to invest more into the lives of those around us. We need to have wisdom and vision like the vineyard-keeper in the parable and like Jesus healing the bent and bound woman.
Do you think that you know better? Do you think that toy are better? Do you think that they have sinned worse than you so that you might look down your nose at another and withhold forgiveness? That grudge you hold because someone has done you wrong, that division that has seeped in the middle of relationships, that condescending attitude you have taken towards others, that grumbling you have made against others, those lies thou have told to put yourself in a better light, that gossip you have spread to slander the reputation of another, that hardness in your heart that is setting you against your brother or sister — are you bent over and bound today? Do you need healing and restoration in your heart even more than that lady needed in her physical body?
Will you put the only fertilizer to the tree that will see it grow and bear fruit? Or will you refuse to repent and see the tree be cut down and cast into the fire?
Jesus journeyed on through cities and villages, teaching and making His way toward Jerusalem. And someone asked Him, “Lord, will only a few be saved [from the penalties of the last judgment]?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door [force aside unbelief and the attractions of sin]; for many, I tell you, will try to enter [by their own works] and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and closes the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door [again and again], saying, ‘Lord, open to us!’ then He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you are from [for you are not of My household].’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; but He will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from; depart from M e , all you evildoers !’ In that place there will be weeping [in sorrow and pain] and grinding of teeth [in distress and anger] when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out and driven away. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and they will sit down [and feast at the table] in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
LUKE 13:22-30 AMP
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test you [that is, to test the quality of your faith], as though something strange or unusual were happening to you. But insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, keep on rejoicing, so that when His glory [filled with His radiance and splendor] is revealed, you may rejoice with great joy. If you are insulted and reviled for [bearing] the name of Christ, you are blessed [happy, with life-joy and comfort in God’s salvation regardless of your circumstances], because the Spirit of glory and of God is resting on you [and indwelling you–He whom they curse, you glorify]. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or a thief, or any sort of criminal [in response to persecution], or as a troublesome meddler interfering in the affairs of others; but if anyone suffers [ill-treatment] as a Christian [because of his belief], he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God [because he is considered worthy to suffer] in this name. For it is the time [destined] for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not respect or believe or obey the gospel of God? A nd if it is difficult for the righteous to be saved , what will become of the godless and the sinner ? Therefore, those who are ill-treated and suffer in accordance with the will of God must [continue to] do right and commit their souls [for safe-keeping] to the faithful Creator.
1 PETER 4:12-19 AMP
Does your tree bear fruit?
But I say, walk habitually in the [Holy] Spirit [seek Him and be responsive to His guidance], and then you will certainly not carry out the desire of the sinful nature [which responds impulsively without regard for God and His precepts]. For the sinful nature has its desire which is opposed to the Spirit, and the [desire of the] Spirit opposes the sinful nature; for these [two, the sinful nature and the Spirit] are in direct opposition to each other [continually in conflict], so that you [as believers] do not [always] do whatever [good things] you want to do. But if you are guided and led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law. Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites. If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage–our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit]. We must not become conceited, challenging or provoking one another, envying one another.
GALATIANS 5:16-26 AMP
If we say that we are “Christians”, if we say that we believe, if we’re say that we have surrendered our lives and asked Him to be our Lord and Savior — if we have been baptized not just by the water of a religious tradition but by the fire of a spiritual transformation, being truly raised ti new life in Christ — then we are proclaiming that He lives in us, that the Holy Spirit of God comes als lovers and abides within us, His vessels, His people, His new creations, His Kingdom of Heaven come down ti earth for His will to be done.
Is this the truth of your life today, “Christian”?
When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are released from your illness.” Then He laid His hands on her; and immediately she stood erect again and she began glorifying and praising God.
Glorify and praise God if this is your story!
Or if it isn’t, then repent, while there is time.
The [Holy] Spirit and the bride (the church, believers) say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take and drink the water of life without cost.
REVELATION 22:17 AMP