>The fig tree gets another chance

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(Photo of ancient fig tree from Think Hebrew)

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The synoptic Gospels all have a “fig tree” story. Matthew and Mark have Jesus cursing the fig tree, and essentially the ultimate result being it withering. (Fig trees just can’t handle the Jesus Glare.) But Luke’s story becomes a parable about a gardener rather than a story about a rather capricious act performed by Jesus. Chances are, the Matthew/Mark versions have some degree of allegory in them anyway. Several scholars have pointed out that these stories occur in the week before Passover, as part of the prelude to the Passion, and that figs are not ripe that time of year in that region of the world anyway. In that light, Jesus wanting figs from a tree that is not in the season that bears them makes no sense. It is very likely that the fig tree symbolizes a larger entity–perhaps the temple, perhaps Israel, perhaps the priests who are in cahoots with Rome.

But the Luke story is unique in that the fig tree gets another chance. It gets a year of manure. Oh, how easy life would be if a little dung cured everything, right? That would make some parts of our lives a literal plant nursery!

My mind went to an odd place with this text this morning. I sometimes cringe at the trite bits of (mostly fundamental) Christianity on some people’s status updates. Don’t get me wrong–I like “faith based status updates” of all religious ilks–but I like the ones that challenge me, make me think. I try to do that myself. It’s the ones that look like a Hallmark Card that bug me, or the ones that reduce God down to “The Cosmic Coke Machine” where you put your prayer quarters in, punch the button that says “Coke,” and out comes a Coke, that irk me.

The one that gave me the urps today was when someone had alluded to something rough going on in their life, and one of their Facebook friends reminded them that “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle.”

Ugh. I just really want to slap the computer when people trot that one out.

God, I believe, does not have a need to entertain Himself by testing us with difficulty to “see how we’ll do.” I just don’t buy it. In my mind, the crap that happens to all of us is simply part of original sin. My concept of original sin is that it is simply the knowledge of good and evil, and our awareness and pain that we know what suffering is, or what an “impossible choice” is, or what feeling what being separated from God somehow is like. Only a capricious, cruel, masochistic God would do such things. The pain of the world is simply “just there.” It is what makes up the stuff of the world. Our relationship with God is not as a “no pain, no gain” fitness coach.

But back to how this fits into the fig tree. What happens to the fig tree, when it looks a little puny? The gardener and the owner give it one more chance. Something is put around it, that most of the time, we do not consider a desired substance–manure. Dung. Waste. What’s left after we used up all the nutritional stuff in food. I’ve never met a single farm person that stepped in a cow pie and said, “Woo Hoo! I’m sure glad I stepped in THAT!”

Dung is basically not a good thing when we are talking about humans. It, at best, is a nuisance (as anyone with a plugged up toilet will tell you), and at worst, spreads pestilence and disease if you have too much of it piled up around you. But for plants, a little dung is a good thing. Plants thrive with a little manure spread around them. In the case of the fig tree, the manure is a form of hope. A revived fig tree will make figs, and figs ARE good for us. So in that sense, something bad for us, in another context, can eventually work to our good. But the “bad” has to break down a while. In the case of the manure, a fresh cow pie, sheep pellet, or donkey briquette is not useful at all, but dried up ones are. The waste has to age and morph a little.

This is the crux of, in my mind, how bad things work towards good. Yes, at the time they are happening to us, they are devastating, demoralizing, and frankly, hurt like hell. But time changes them. When they have been changed by time and the elements they become less toxic, and even if they don’t directly contribute to our growth, have the potential to contribute to SOME kind of growth, and the result of that growth can touch me. I believe LOTS of things can be handed to me that “I can’t handle.” But I do not believe they are handed to me by God. They are handed to me by the simple brokenness of the world. I do believe, however, that given time and awareness, God can show me where the nutrients are in them.

>"Give us this day our daily bread"

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It’s an oft-repeated line from a prayer so common, even people who haven’t darkened a church door in decades know it…but it is possible it means more than “feed me every day?”

I got to playing with the literal Greek in this line:

“Tou artos hemon tou epiousion didou hemin to kath hemerau”

Literally, “The bread of us the daily give to us these in the day.” Two of the words actually have some vagaries to them–Epiousion (“daily”) and hemerau (in the day).

Let’s start with epiousion. In secular Greek, this word is often used to describe the daily “soldier’s rations.” (Hence the picture of the MRE at the top of my blog post!) In particular, it described the soldier’s rations given the night BEFORE the battle, for the NEXT day (since they would be busy fighting.)

So is it possible this line actually means, “Give us today, the bread we need tomorrow?” Is it a call to be well-provisioned for the battles we may fight in this world tomorrow?

Let’s go a little further, and play with the word “hemerau.” This is one of those words where it kind of depends on the context. “Hemerau” is used to mean, literally, daylight in one context–a context where evil things happen in the night, in darkness, and are exposed in the light of day. In another context, it means a 24 hour day. Still a third context uses the word as “all the days of our lives,” or the last day of this age–which, in the context of the early church, would have been the day of Christ’s return. WHOA!

That really expands the line, when you realize what we may be asking for in this line of the Lord’s prayer, “Give us today the bread we need for the Day of Christ’s Return.”

Thinking about this made me all prayerfully poetic.

O God, provider of all things necessary for our lives–
You distribute our portion, whatever our portion is allotted to be.
It looks so big–so big, in fact, I’m not sure I can eat it all.
Why did you put so much on my plate?
But then you remind me that you didn’t expect me to eat it all today.
Some of this is for tomorrow, some for the next day,
And some for the next day after that.
Some of it is meant to fortify me for the battles ahead in my life,
And some of it is not meant to be eaten
Until the two of us can share it face to face
In the glory of light perpetual.

It is my portion, Lord,
I will accept it in love and humility,
Grateful that you feed me not just for today,
But for many days ahead
And have provided me enough
That I can share freely
With those who might be hungry
Because they misplaced their portion.
May they do the same for me. Amen.

>Shekinah and Sammy Hagar and Year C of the Lectionary

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I was thinking the other day about how we are back in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary again–what I call “the Luke year.” I was sort of sorry to see Year B–“the Mark year”–come to an end, because Mark is my favorite Gospel, but I’m grateful that we dovetail Mark with Luke. It seems altogether fitting that we follow Mark’s Jesus–a very emotionally human, but somewhat exasperated glimpse of Jesus–with the healing Jesus we encounter in Luke. That sequence reminds me of myself at times–irritated, exasperated, occasionally short-tempered and volcanically cross–but then I so often take a deep breath and see the healing that comes. My own “coming to a point of understanding” moves from someone more like Mark’s Jesus to Luke’s Jesus.

So in that sense, I am also ready for the Year B to Year C transition again. To spit out my anger and irritation and simply listen and allow healing, for all the various slings and arrows of whatever issues graced my previous year.

It got me to thinking about all the times in any of our lives where we suddenly noticed “healing” occurred. It hardly seems that healing is a “conscious condition.” It so often happens under the radar, and when it is noticed, it’s a little more like what Sammy Hagar sings in Van Halen’s “Love Walks in”…

And then you sense a change
Nothin’ feels the same
All your dreams are strange
comes walkin’ in
Some kind of alien
Waits for the opening
Simply pulls a string
Love comes walkin’ in

Somewhere, sometime, when we weren’t looking, Divine Love “came walkin’ in.” We only discover it in retrospect, when something happened that made us realize “We’re handling it differently.” Perhaps it is manifested in a moment that previously triggered our chest to tighten with the familiar feel of post-traumatic stress. It might be in a moment when we are re-telling a story that reminded us of how we had been profoundly hurt, and when we have finished the story, we recognize the telling of it was painless. Maybe we enter a physical place where we used to feel our “hackles” rise every time we entered, and we didn’t even feel a twinge on the back of our neck.

It’s the psychological equivalent of those moments post-surgery when we suddenly realize our scar doesn’t hurt anymore, or those times after a virus when the fever breaks and we say, “Wow, I feel pretty good!”

But the fact remains that somewhere, in our healing process, Divine Love came walking in, cleaned up a few odds and ends, and simply sat down in our living rooms to watch TV. Many times, it happens at points where it doesn’t feel like any sort of “healing” at all. We generally don’t get the luxury of “instant healing” that we see Jesus doing in Luke, but we do often get the moment of “instant recognition” of where Divine Love snuck in on her little cat feet and healed us.

That’s the other magical thing about the way Divine Love heals. She doesn’t do a hit and run. She remains in the house as our family member, so long as we simply acknowledge her presence and thank her for helping around the house.

Have you ever noticed one of the first places Divine Love walks in, is often at the time we are least capable of consciously manipulating the system–our sleeping habits? When we hurt, whether it’s psychological or physical, we don’t sleep in our normal patterns. We may not sleep as soundly, or we wake up at odd times. We have trouble falling asleep or back to sleep. Our dream life becomes weird or scary, or just plain shuts down and we become “dream impacted” with sleep becoming a glimpse of the darkness of a death without God.

But often, before we even recognize our own moments of healing, something starts happening in our sleep life. To borrow from the opening two verses of Psalm 126, we become “like those who dream,” and our waking mouth becomes filled with laughter, and our tongues become more joyful. Things that had stopped being funny are funny again. Something that normally might not scratch our funny bone suddenly becomes so comical we can’t stop laughing. These moments of joy and laughter are reflexive–we are not trying to be happy or make ourselves laugh. But it all was preceded by the ability to dream again, and the ability to daydream.

What I invite you to do in the beginning of Year C in the Lectionary is to simply hear the Gospel stories in Luke with an ear to the healing within them. Take whatever has been damaged over Years A and B, and simply lay it on the altar and let the healing stories of Luke marinate them. Just be sure to notice when Divine Love comes walkin’ in.