About two months ago Catherine Chu and I were on the way to an evening intercultural network meeting at Cloverdale United Church, Surrey, BC. I left home a bit early and picked Catherine up on the way and headed for the church. My GPS indicated we would be arriving at the church about 30 min before the meeting. The driving was good, even though we had expected a late afternoon traffic jam. We were glad to see the church from the road about 20 min before the meeting was to start, but there was a problem; we couldn’t access the church from the road. Road 15 was divided by a median strip so I couldn’t drive over it to enter the church; I had to drive beyond it. Have you had this kind of experience? You know you are going in the wrong direction but you can’t find a way to reverse it? While I was driving further up the road beyond the church, I saw the most beautiful and transformational sign I had seen in a long time; it read, “U-turns are Permitted!”
We are heading to the midpoint of the season of Lent. I think it is a good time to check where we are and where we are heading. We need to check our speed and direction. If we find ourselves heading in a wrong direction we need to make u-turns. In this Lenten season we are invited to reflect on our directions and u-turns. In other words, we are invited to a season of contemplation and reflection. No matter how far down the road of life we travel, whether the road be personal, communal, or even an ill-advised path, u-turns are permitted. This is good news!
Let us return to today’s scripture reading. In the parable recorded in today’s scripture, the vineyard owner has fig trees on the farm. In the cultural history of Israel, the fig tree has always been a symbol of blessing. The fig tree is the only tree mentioned by name in the garden of paradise. The fig tree also was part of the vision of Israel’s future blessing associated with the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. So the fig tree is a vivid symbol of hope and blessing. The owner of the fig tree wants to see fruit, but there is no fruit.
The owner is so disappointed. The owner says 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?” The owner can no longer hold out any hope for the fig tree. But the gardener still has hope, so he replies “Give me one more year.” Give me one more year. I will dig around it and put manure on it. I will take good care of it with the hope that it will bear fruit next year.”
The gardener continues in this vein, “If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (9). I want to direct your attention here. The gardener is just a hired man. His duty is simply to follow the owner’s orders. If he simply follows the orders, his life will be good. And he also knows that if he does not follow the orders, he will be fired; the gardener is taking a risk in rejecting the owner’s orders, but he does not give up his hope. He doesn’t know what the future will bring, but he still sticks to his hope: he is cultivating the future with his hope. What a wonderful hope this is!
In this parable, the owner’s judgement is based on past performance. It may be our contemporary conventional wisdom that we are valued for our achievement. But, the gardener changes the criterion by which we value our lives from past achievement to future hope. He directs the story toward the future. Our lives are not valued by past achievement, but by cultivating our future with our dreams. The fig tree is in a vulnerable situation: As Christians we are yearning for God’s kin-dom where everyone is valued equally as God’s children and everyone will be healed.
In this time of Lent God calls us to change our direction and turn around and journey toward God with an open heart. Like the gardener we would not easily give up our hope for our future with God. As individuals and communities, what are we hoping for? What is our hope for the future? As we identify our hopes we may go forward to fulfil them. We dig around our understanding of faith and nourishing it. We do this by our practice of prayer, meditation, action and taking good care of our hope, hope for a more just and compassionate world, hope for the wholeness and healing of our families, our faith community and beyond. May the God of hope, wholeness and healing go with us as we turn to God with an open heart on our Lenten Journey. On this journey, remember always, “U-turns are permitted!” Thanks be to God for the grace, encouragement and hope of Lent. Amen.