Some of Jesus’ parables are frightening.
His parable in Luke 13:6-9 certainly is. The owner of a vineyard was seeking fruit from his fig tree, but when he came to it he found none. He told the Gardener, “Three years I have sought fruit from this tree, and still I find none. Chop it down! Why should it use up the ground? The Gardener says, “Let it remain for a year, and I will dig deep and put in fertilizer. If it grows fruit then it is good; if not, then chop it down.” ~Luke 13:6-9. This parable Jesus told is alarming when you realize the tree is given to mean you.
The Vineyard owner does not merely like trees for decoration. He wants fruit, sustenance, profit, continuation. He does not want the earth gone to waste. Indeed the word in Greek for “use up the ground” gives the idea of taking all its usefulness so that it is wasted and useless afterwards: like a soiled tissue, or a an empty pizza box. Another important thing about the phrase “use up the ground” is that the ground is the word for Earth. In Hebrew and Greek the word for earth, ground, and dirt art synonymous. A possible rendering of Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew is “In the beginning, God created the [ground] and the [sky].” It is much less a rendering of a material planet here and now and an immaterial place somewhere far away where God’s throne is, as it is talking about the concrete and immaterial reality that makes up life today around the world. In the Old Testament this idea of Heaven and Earth is vital to understanding the whole story, and God’s plan for a new Heaven and Earth in both Testaments.
Jesus gives a a story about what life is worth and what is worth ending life for the sake of life. The Gardener and the Vineyard owner in this paragraph demonstrate the Justice and the Forbearance of God.
JUSTICE: says “This tree belongs to me and it is not doing what it is meant to do. It must be removed and extinguished because it is using up the good and making it bad!”
FORBEARANCE: says “This tree is worth investing in and waiting a little bit longer to see if it is fruitful, so that this good thing may produce more good. If however, after further investment and patience it does not improve, then we will know for sure that the problem is with the tree itself, not the soil or the owner. So then it will be right for it to be removed.
“Behold the Kindness and Severity of God.” ~Romans 11:22. God is true, and requires a good accounting; He is also loving and gives all he can. In the end, all glory goes to His name, and all creation be filled with the glory of His goodness.
- That being said, I believe this parable is meant to draw our attention to the earth, the tangible concrete reality in which we live. “Why does it use up the ground?” is another way of asking, “Why does this even exist?” God has poured out his blessing on Humanity, and made a good world, and has charged mankind with the task of making making it good extremely! (See Genesis 1:28-31). This is part of what has been called the cultural mandate given to humanity. All humans are called to continue the growth of God’s good world.
- Specifically for Christians, God has called us to be the salt of the earth to preserve it. We are to take the good and make more good of it in concrete tangible ways. As the Holy Spirit guides us, He breathes life into all the the dead and dying things and from them creates new things through which His life can nourish others. Believers must learn to be led by the Holy Spirit so they can be a part of this preservation of Life.
- Specifically for Christians, God has in mind for us to invest and make good those things which will last unto eternity. This does not negate the need to accomplish physical restoration and healing of our concrete tangible reality. Jesus after all did not only preach about the life to come, nor value purely the souls of humankind, but also their physical needs he met and their infirmities he restored. All this he did with a view to the praise of His Father who expects a good harvest of Earth and Heaven before he makes all things new. So then, believers must not work for temporary ends of the kingdoms of men, but rather for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ which is filling the whole earth, starting in the hearts of men, and flowing out from them in all that they touch.
- For all Humanity, we must learn to fear the God who made us, planted us, owns us, and seeks results from us. He is forbearing and kind, and He is also exact and just. His patience will come to an end, and He will act for the good of His beloved people and creation, and the sake of His name, so that all the world may give praise to the Lord, “for He is good, and his Love endures forever.”