Connections 03.20.2022: For the Hope of Figs

Luke 12:54–13:9

Some people love a cliffhanger.

Cliffhangers are great plot devices; they keep you turning the page, or seeking out the sequel, or coming back for the next episode. “Same bat time, same bat channel,” as the old Adam West Batman show used to say. We want to know whether the Joker or the Riddler or the Penguin just might manage to win this round, so we’ll be sure to come back and find out.

But it seems that there is no such thing as “Tune in next time to see…” in Jesus’ world. Jesus tells a story, gets you hooked on character and setting and wondering how it’s going to turn out, and then he just walks away. I feel myself wanting to prompt Jesus with, “Aaaannnddd….???,” only to hear his response, tossed backward over his shoulder as he moves on to his next speaking engagement: “And: The End.”

In Luke 12 and 13, Jesus has been teaching about hypocrisy, about seeing signs of judgment and heeding calls for repentance. “Then,” Luke says in 13:6, “he told this parable.” A fig tree that should be producing is apparently a dud. There’s no fruit. It’s a waste of space and effort, and the owner is ready to cut the useless thing down.

But wait! The gardener is there, someone who should know how to see the signs of life in fruit trees, and how to heed the ailing tree’s need for water or nutrients or pruning. The gardener begs the owner for one more year to try to get the tree to bear fruit.

The End.

My instinct is that the lesson Jesus has for his listeners should come after The End. After the cliffhanger. What is the owner’s response? Does the gardener come through and save the tree’s life? Does the tree get another chance? Will we get another chance?

I don’t love cliffhangers. I like completion, tidiness. I love to see how a storyteller brings all the threads together to reach a satisfying conclusion. I don’t like the discomfort, the undone-ness, of a story that ends before it is finished.

But even as I call out my “Aaaannnddd…???” to the back of Jesus’ head, I think maybe I know the answer. The undone-ness is the answer. The discomfort is the answer, because in the discomfort of a cliffhanger there remains a chance of survival. Jesus had pointed to the signs of judgment and had called out the warnings for repentance, and surely the people who heard him were wondering, as we still are today, Is it here? Is it now? Then he told this parable and left them cliffhanging with the gardener and with the as-yet fruitless tree.

It may be The End of the story, but it is not finished yet. There is still hope for figs.

Discussion

  • What “cliffhangers” are causing discomfort in your life and in your spiritual life today? How do you remain faithful through the undone-ness, through not knowing for sure how things are going to turn out? How does this uncertainty leave room for hope?
  • Is there an area of your spiritual life that needs gardening? What tending do you need—nourishment? pruning?—so that you can begin to bear fruit?
  • When have you felt that someone or something was beyond redemption? Have you been tempted to cut out “useless” people or situations from your life? How do you know when to increase your care and work, and when to let go and move on?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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