Monday, March 8, 2010

The Fig Tree

A brief reflection on the Parable of the Fig Tree - Gospel of Luke 13:1-9

I grew up in Union City, New Jersey on the second floor of a two family house. The house was parallel to a parking lot, which gave my friends and I every opportunity to play stickball, box ball and football. On the first floor lived the landlord, Mr. Romanzi, an Italian immigrant. He was very proud of his home, keeping the house in tip top shape. The porch railing always had a fresh coat of paint, the sidewalk in front of the house was always scrubbed clean. Mr. Romanzi loved his small, neat backyard. The yard was a small patch of well maintained earth, half grass, and the other half, an old fig tree. I remember once Mr. Romanzi took me out into the parking lot so we could view his backyard from a distance, he thought it was picturesque. Looking back on it now, it was beautiful, an oasis in the midst of concrete and asphalt. He was especially proud of his old fig tree.

Fig trees were never meant to grow in New Jersey, they are much happier in a mild climate. Yet, if given the proper food, if they are sheltered from the winter wind – they can survive. Every fall Mr. Romanzi would wrap the tree in burlap to protect the fig tree from the winter wind, it was a labor of love. In the summer, the fig tree would produce a bumper crop of fruit.

The tree would flourish to such a degree the branches would grow through the fence –offering many figs for parking lot picking. Many times during the summer, I remember Mr. Romanzi walking up the stairs, knocking on our door and offering my family a bowl of fresh figs lying on a bed of ice. I will never forget how delicious these figs were. Mr. Romanzi’s patient cultivation and care certainly produced good fruit.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us the story of the man who owns a vineyard, who planted a fig tree. The fig tree is not bearing fruit. Why? The tree may have a disease, maybe the gardener is lazy, or maybe not well schooled in agriculture. In any case, the gardener is concerned. The owner of the vineyard wants to cut the tree down. The tree is not only useless without fruit, it has a negative effect on its neighboring trees. So the gardener asks the owner for another chance to make things right. We will assume the chance was granted.

Just as my landlord cultivated and cared for his fig tree, so to must we care for our own spiritual lives, with fervent prayer and participation in the sacraments of the Church, primarily Penance and Eucharist. Holy Mother Church has all the graces necessary for our "metanoia", our change of heart. The Gospel message is clear, Christians must bear good fruit, and this fruit must manifest itself in good works. The Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy are perfect guides to follow. Do we feed the hungry? Do we clothe the naked? Do we visit the sick and lonely? Do we teach the ignorant, those who are ignorant of Christ?

There is no mistaking the meaning of this parable. If us Christians do not produce good fruit, there will be consequences. Lent is the perfect season for us, to reflect upon our lives, discern what changes are necessary, and begin to cultivate and care for our spiritual lives.

After my landlord had passed from this life, our house was sold, and the fig tree, without the tender loving care of my landlord, withered and died.

* Top Image - a satellite image courtesy of google "my childhood home."

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