I love this time of year, I’d love it better if we hadn’t gotten as much snow the past couple of weeks as we did, but it’s a great time. This time of the year is a great time of Hope. Anything can happen, anybody can win. Even my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals, has a chance. Spring Training is a time when players work on fundamentals, work on teamwork, find ways to get better, and hopefully make the lineup.
I love it when someone who’s bounced around for years, maybe going from team to team, finally pulls it together and has the breakthrough season. They manage to close the hole in their swing, or find the one killer pitch that makes everything come together. Heck, I think even George Brett’s rookie year in the majors wasn’t a stellar season, but when he put it together, wow!
It is easy to see a lot of things in terms of investment. When we wonder how we should decide what to do, we’re trying to figure out whether it’s worth the investment of our time. We make a lot of choices with our money every day, and hopefully we’re looking for value for our buck. Even though George Carlin says that the opposite doesn’t make sense:” No. I want to pay a fortune for crap.”
Farmers have to make decisions about crops, and today’s Gospel reading has to do with such a decision. In the Holy Land, there isn’t much arable land and not much water, so an unproductive plant was a dilemma. The numerology of the years that the owner expected figs from this plant are irrelevant for once: all they should do is tell us that the fig tree should have sprouted figs already. Jesus’ original audience should have been right with him, and the conclusion should have been unanimous: dig up the tree, it’s taking from valuable resources of earth and water and sunlight and not producing anything. Get rid of it, and put in a tree that will come through.
The gardener is going to go beyond his usual effort for such a tree. It’s nice that he’s going to cultivate around it and weed it and provide fertilizer for it (we aren’t going to talk about what that is), but will it be worth the time investment? Is the profit going to be enough to warrant the investment?
Suppose we take this one step farther and assume that we’re the fig tree in question. Jesus is the gardener who’s going to take the extra effort to tend us in order to bring for fruit, the one who saves us till later to give us a chance. There’s still a problem here: it presumes that we’re going to have to earn our existence by producing, or else God the owner is going to come chop us down. Do we have to get going because God is going to get us? Do we earn our way into heaven? No, because as Jesus said in the first part of the reading: Bad things happen to Good people.
Our work at reform this Lent isn’t a way of earning God’s love or salvation. That is a gift of Christ. God has invested a lot in us, giving us Jesus to be our Savior and our Guide. Our work is made possible because of the investment God has made in us. Our fruitfulness is possible because Jesus the great gardener has cultivates us, gives us food and drink and light and any kind of nourishment we can accept. Like the roots of a tree, we can reach out to our source, we can put ourselves in a place to soak up the life-giving spring that Christ offers. This is the purpose of everything we do in Lent, and everything we do year round. The fact that we can bear fruit, even after a long barren time, is proof of the faith of the gardener, the faith that Jesus has in us. That faith can be overwhelming, overpowering, but it can also be comforting, and a reason to make that much more effort, so that we can feel good about the investment that God makes in us.
Sure, there’s things we struggle with, things we want to fix and have a hard time working out. But Christ always gives us help, strength, nourishment, so we can have the breakthrough season. It doesn’t matter how long we may be stuck on something bad, how we may have been without produce, we can still come through, we can still overcome.
Jesus continues that investment in us today. Jesus gives himself to us so we may blossom, so we may become the best we can be, so we may reach our full potential. However, we can’t sit still and hope something will happen. We have to do some work, we have to get ourselves into productive shape, we need to do what we can to blossom and grow. While we have breath, we can make the team. Jesus wants us to blossom, Jesus wants to grow, Jesus wants us to play for Him.