Grace, Truth, and Time
The tree was barren. No leaves. No fruit. Just spindly branches reaching to heaven without an offering in its hands.
The landowner was a practical man. He planted the fig tree in the vineyard to produce fruit, not to take up space. This tree was done producing, so, the owner told the manager of the vineyard to cu the tree down. Plant something new—something that would produce.
The manager was a hopeful man—and, as it turned out, a skilled negotiator. The manager offered the owner a compromise. What if we do this? What if we give it another year? What if I tend to it—work the soil around it and nourish it with fertilizer? Let’s see what happens in a year. Then, if there is still no fruit, let’s bring out the chainsaw.
The owner liked what he heard, and granted the barren tree a reprieve.
The Parable of the Barren Tree
That’s my reading on the parable Jesus told of the barren fig tree in Luke 13.6-9. It’s a little parable, hidden in the shadows of stories about prodigal sons, mustard seeds, and sowing and reaping. But, it’s a little parable that packs a big punch. In these three verses, we find the three necessities to begin again, to start over, to come back.
After I resigned as the lead pastor of a church with thousands of members and adherents and a budget in the millions of dollars, I felt empty and lost—barren—like I had nothing to contribute. But, even more than that, when I looked at my tired spirit and my drooping soul, I felt barren—like my heart was empty. I felt too poor of spirit to produce much of anything good—let alone set out on a new future, a new hope, or a new beginning. But, I found in the three verses of this parable the three essential elements I needed to start over in an arid, barren place.
The tree didn’t deserve another year; it had done nothing to receive its temporary pardon from the ax. But, when the vineyard manager asked the owner, grace was granted. The same is true for you and for me as we start over.
It takes grace to begin again. And God will give you that grace—often through the most unlikely people. It’s the same grace he gave David after Bathsheba, Peter after the denial, and Israel after the exile. Whether your fresh start or reboot is the result of your own choices or somebody else’s, we all need God’s grace to begin again.
But, grace isn’t enough to start over. It also requires truth. The tree was barren. That was the truth. Buying the tree more time would have done no good if the manager didn’t’ face the truth of what was happening to the tree. Grace without truth would have resulted in another year of the same thing happening again. But, truth without grace would have resulted in the tree being taken down that day. Grace and truth—together, they can start a healing process.
Grace and truth are not enough on their own. Starting over takes time. The manager didn’t ask the owner to come back tomorrow. He needed time because he understood that most of life is about the process.
Do you remember when you brought that cup full of dirt home from kindergarten? There was a seed buried somewhere in that black dirt, and one day it was going to be a plant, a flower, or a tomato. But, that day wasn’t going to be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. It was going to take time.
Time without grace and truth? The tree will still be barren. Grace and truth with time? That’s the secret to starting over. That’s the secret to beginning again.