“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” Luke 13:8-9
If you plant a fruit tree you expect fruit. However, you realise that it takes time for a tree to mature, to grow roots, and branches that are capable of bearing fruit so you are patient. Nevertheless, there comes a time when your patience is exhausted and you decide to remove the tree.
This parable would have been challenging for Jesus’ audience because he chose to set this story in a vineyard with a fig tree. God through the prophets had often used these pictures to refer to Israel. Furthermore, Jesus tells this parable immediately after saying, “But unless you repent, you too will perish” (verse 5). There are two main points to this parable, one is that God is patient but the other is we cannot take God’s patience for granted.
Jesus is being confrontational. He expects his hearers to repent and change their ways and he makes it clear that there will be consequences if they don’t. One day God will say enough is enough.
Yet the good news of the parable is that God does everything possible to encourage fruit. He will dig around the tree—he will make our lives uncomfortable. He will fertilize it—he will allow unpleasant circumstances because he wants us to mature, to grow our spiritual roots deep into God and grow spiritual branches so our lives will be fruitful.
God has expectations of his people. He has invested so much in our salvation, our justification, our sanctification. He has provided opportunities for growth, healing, and maturity. It’s reasonable that God expects fruit.