'...give it one more chance...' Luke 13:8
Notice I do not have the phrase in literal quotes, as it is from The Living Translation and these words are not part of the literal translation, though it does mirror the semantic of the passage. Let's examine this short parable Jesus used in describing His relationship with God the Father as it relates to the garden of humanity.
There are many who believe Jesus never confronted people concerning sin, but such is not true. Jesus confronted the sin of the woman at the well (John 4); He compassionately dealt with the sin of an adulterous woman, nevertheless instructing her to "go, and sin no more". (John 8) John 5 reveals an encounter Jesus had with an invalid whom Jesus healed and instructed to stop sinning. Evidently, Jesus knew the man's condition was caused by his sinful choices. Jesus did not shy away from exposing sin, though He modeled for us today an approach whose fundamental aim is restoration. This approach is fully motivated by love... without such love, one's efforts to confront sin in another is both Pharisaical and judgmental.
The context of today's five understandable words follows a rebuke by Jesus to the crowd He was instructing. He described how everyone was able to predict certain weather patterns:
"Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, 'When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, "Here comes a shower." And you are right. When the south wind blows, you say, "Today will be a scorcher." And it is.'" (Luke 13:54-56)
Jesus was simply revealing obvious patterns - patterns that are obvious to this day. Many of you may know the old rhyme: 'Red sky at night is a sailor's delight; red sky at morning, you'd better take warning.'. Jesus then reprimanded the crowd for understanding weather patterns while having no clue as to the pattern of moral decline happening all around them (the Roman culture was quite liberal, similar to ours in America today).
Jesus was told how the Roman mayor of Jerusalem was complicit in conspiring to murder some Jews from Galilee who had been offering sacrifices in the temple there. A common assumption held in that day was the belief that people deserved their horrible end because of the sin in their life (remember, this is the culture that fully embraced the gladiator culture within the Roman Coliseum, and relished in the gore of contests to the death). Jesus called everyone out on the general assumptions they held, and then warned them to repent, or they, too, would meet a worse end than those executed by Pilate. (13:1-5)
Jesus then shared the heart of God - that none should perish (Matthew 18:14), through a brief parable about a land owner and his gardener. The owner had planted a fig tree in his garden, but was disappointed in its lack of fruit bearing ability, instructing the gardener to cut it down, as it was just taking up space in His garden without delivering any produce to sell.
The gardener, though, asked that the tree be given another year so that special attention could be given it by himself. It is in this conversation that I feel the editors of The Living Translation were spot on in mirroring the message of the story: '...give it one more chance.' The message whispered in these five simple words speaks volumes. God is all about second chances. God is all about making us healthy to yield productive lives. God's expectation is for us to be fruitful.
In this parable, I believe God the Father is the owner, and Jesus is the gardener, Who gives each of us His own special attention when we are not yielding spiritual fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus desires to see us healthy and strong, displaying these qualities in our lives. It's interesting that, in the literal translation, the gardener tells the owner that he would "dung" the tree - meaning, he would place feces (typically a mix of cattle, sheep, and human excrement). Perhaps there is a hidden meaning for our own lives in this. Have any of us felt that we've experienced things we would equate to the 'dung' for the tree?
The Gardener of humanity does not give up on us, even when we give up on others - or ourselves. Be encouraged in this new year: Jesus is working all things out for our good (Romans 8:28), as He works to restore us to Himself in wholeness. Let these words encourage you to give someone else another chance... or maybe give yourself another chance. Doing so will mirror the heart of restoration.
He's still working on me.