It’s More Than Manure
The guest preacher was incredible. He could sing. He could soar in rhetoric or use carefully timed silence to make the audience beg him to say his next words. He read the text better than a gifted Shakespearean actor and dramatically wiped the sweat from his brow. The audience coaxed him to keep on preaching.
His text was Luke 13:6-9, the story of the unfruitful fig tree, and he picked up on the line “I shall dig about it, and dung it, ” tantalizing the audience with different words for “dung”—“manure,” “fertilizer,” and, the word his wife wouldn’t like him to use, “doo-doo.” He explained that the “dung” represented the hard times God allows in our lives—the suffering that disciplines us to make us fruitful. He climaxed his message with the reminder that the master did not cut down the tree. He gave it one more year, more time. And we can count on God to give us another chance, more time.
Wow! What a message! What communication! Only one problem. Is this the message Jesus was seeking to get across by this story in Luke’s Gospel? Was the audience hearing God’s truth?
“Now He told this parable, ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came seeking fruit in it but found none. So he said to the vineyard keeper, ‘Look! Three years I have come looking for fruit in this fig tree, but I have found none. Therefore, cut it down. Why should it be allowed to continue to waste good ground.’ But the vineyard keeper answered, ‘Lord, leave it alone this year until I dig around it and put down manure. And if it bears fruit in the coming year, ….but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9
When we read a text, we can’t ignore its context and then make up what we think it’s saying, no matter how powerful our rhetoric. In this section of Luke Jesus’ audience has alternated back and forth. It began with the Jewish crowd that has been following Him like a rock star (Lk. 12:1) and then shifted to His disciples and then back to the crowd. (Check out how Luke signals the change in audience, Lk. 12:1, 13, 22, 41, 54). This fig tree story concludes this section, and it’s addressed not to Jesus’ disciples but to His own Jewish people—those still listening but not yet decided (Lk. 13:1, cf. Micah 7:1 ff)). Our guest preacher completely missed the audience Jesus addressed; therefore, he missed the point of the delay and the manure.
God is not encouraging us to hang in there in hard times because in a short time we will be productive again. God’s Word is declaring that the Lord Jesus will give His Jewish nation in the first century a little more time. He will keep looking for evidence of fruit proving that they have entered His Kingdom. Luke will develop this plot line in the book of Acts where, even after the rejection by His nation’s leaders, the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus keeps reaching out to His own people trying to get them to change their mind about His identity. In the first century many Jews did turn to Him. They laid the foundation of His Church.
We can’t turn Jesus’ strong challenge in his fig tree story into a soft comforting 21st century message that a little “dung” in our life today challenges us to endure because God wants to give us another chance. Like the Jews in Jesus’ first century audience, we dare not ignore His challenge. The time to decide that He’s the Messiah, the only One who can forgive our sin and make our lives fruitful, is now.
LORD, use Truth Encounter to help Your children carefully track Your Story and not rip texts out of your Story and then make up their own story. It’s a serious thing to say we are giving Your Message from Your Word when we are actually making up our own message. Thank you that Your Gospel is still being proclaimed to the Jew first and also to the Gentile (Romans 1:17-16-17). Generate new life and fruit in those who step across the line today and believe in the true Jesus, the biblical Jesus, the Jesus Luke is portraying for us.
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