Johnny Cash sang, “Sooner or later God’s gonna cut you down.”[1]

Is that true Johnny? Do we all have a reason to be concerned? How are we to interpret the meaning of disaster and tragedy?

Jesus’ message of repentance is not just pointed at individuals, but also to his religious community. He came calling his own nation Israel home to God. The family nation is often described in botanical terms—a bruised reed, a vine or a fig tree.

Luke 13:
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘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.’”

The simple parable shows common sense gardening. If your fruit tree doesn’t yield in the appropriate season, remove it from the ground and burn it. Three years was the formative stage that prepared the fig tree to start growing its fruit.

In the guise of a patient farmer, Jesus describes how God will take something unfruitful and change its environment. Loosening the soil around it, adding nutrients… what can help this tree to do what it is made for?

Jesus tells both individuals and the nation that the clock is ticking. God is watching over his vineyard. If his plant does not bear fruit, he can find other ways to get fruit.[2]

[1] Johnny Cash, ©2006 American Recordings, LLC & The Island Def Jam Music Group
[2] The IVP New Testament Commentary Series