"The Patient Gardener" by John Haskins
Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’” —Luke 13:6-9, CEB
Love is patient. This is the first quality of love the apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. The gardener in Jesus’ story loves her fig tree because she is patient with it. She advocates for that tree, imploring its owner to give it more time, to give it another chance. “It’s had three chances, Lord, but why not give it one more?”
Jesus’ parables give us mysterious glimpses into God’s realm—the kingdom of heaven—and into the nature of God Themself. God is love, and love is patient; therefore, God is patient. We adopt this into Christian lingo, saying, “God is a God of second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances, and…” This is good and true, but it also fits into the limited parameters of our human expectations.
We might give anything from fruit trees in our backyard to co-workers in the daily vocational garden we till to people planted along the pathway of our life second chances, third chances, fourth chances when those beloved creatures disappoint us, frustrate us, let us down. But even the most patient human heart has limitations.
Not so with God. That’s not how the heavenly realm works, not how the kin-dom of God the prophet Isaiah gives witness to functions. “Everyone who’s thirsty, come to the waters,” says the prophet in Isaiah 55. “You don’t need money. Just come, buy, and eat! There’s plenty of good, rich food.” More than an all-you-can-eat buffet, though, God provides unlimited grace. Even to the so-called “wicked,” Isaiah says, “Let them return to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” But the best part about that old prophet’s testimony is this assurance he speaks on God’s behalf: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The patience of God exceeds the confines of human breaking points.
This is good news, but it gets even better. In Jesus’ parable, not only does the gardener advocate for the innocent fig tree to have another chance, she flips the owner’s accusation that the bare tree is just “depleting the soil’s nutrients” by saying, “I’ll give it fertilizer. I’ll give it even more of what you think it doesn’t deserve. I’ll lavish love on this little plant, because what the world thinks is done for, I resurrect and redeem.” Love it patient, yes. It also keeps no record of wrongs. It also always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never dies.
Prayer: Loving Gardener, I try to practice patience, but the truth is I am disappointed sometimes. I get frustrated. I feel let down. When I hit those breaking points, O God, keep spreading the good nutrients of your abundant grace on my life so that I would not be tempted to project my limited thoughts onto the world around me, wishing for the people who deplete my energy to just go away, or, worse yet, to be punished. Equip and empower me by your steadfast example to give more when it appears that there is only so much goodness to go around, to forgive more when the world seems merciless, and to share more when hope looks to be running out. Remind me, Abundant Provider Whose thoughts are not mine, that when we deserve love the least we need it the most. Amen.