In this Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 13:1-9) we are given an image that is worthy of reflecting upon. Christ presents himself as the gardener – the one who patiently and humbly works in the situations of our lives to bring forth life and healing. In the parable offered by our Lord we are told that the owner of an orchard wants a fig tree that is not bearing fruit cut down yet the gardener intercedes on behalf of the tree. He will cultivate the ground and fertilize it and then see what will happen. Then it will be decided whether to cut down the tree or not. It is interesting to note that the parable ends here – left unfinished. This in intentional, I believe, on our Lord’s part because by leaving it unfinished we are brought into the parable. We cannot avoid the conclusion that we are the fig tree.
The question is raised though as to our willingness and ability to recognize the cultivation of the gardener in our lives and how to respond to that cultivation.
To begin to recognize the work of the gardener we must acknowledge and admit that we are not the gardener. In other words, we are not necessary. In today’s first reading (Ex. 3;1-8a, 13-15) when Moses asks what name he should give the Israelites for this deity who is speaking to him from the burning bush, God responds with, I am who am. God is the one necessary thing, God is being itself. All of creation (including you and me) exists solely because God wills it. This might be a terrifying thought were it not for the fact that God is love, pure and simple.
The gardener we have is one who carefully and patiently cultivates and fertilizes the terrain of our lives and our hearts. The gardener wants the tree to bear fruit! God wants nothing other than the good for us! Just as the gardener wants the tree to flourish, so God want us to flourish! Any image, any thought of a God who is jealous of his power, or vindictive or wrath-filled must be discarded if we are to truly advance in the Christian life.
Neither is God absent nor uncaring. Any gardener worth his or her salt is very attentive to the garden. But a gardener knows that there are moments to cultivate, fertilize and water as well as moments to let be and even weed and prune if necessary – all for the good of the tree. Sometimes God’s seeming absence might be the work of the attentive gardener. Sometimes the pains of life might be the needed action of pruning.
The gardener is also dedicated. The gardener is willing to remain and work with his or her garden both in and out of season, both in times of growth and times when the land lies fallow. This dedication and persistence proves the devotion of the gardener to the garden. God says to Moses, The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob… In our life and in the history of creation, God is persistent in his love and in his mercy. We can have confidence in this. Our name is included in this litany.
As we learn the action of the gardener in our lives we come to recognize the holy ground on which we stand – both the moments of joy and sorrow, the moments of triumph and of loss. All become holy ground and moments of encounter with God who is love. Remove the sandals from your feet for the place where you stand is holy ground.