“A man had a fig tree, planted 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 tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'” ~Luke 13:6-7
Notice the violence of the command. “Cut it down!” It’s not producing fruit. Chop it down! It’s not doing what I need it to. Get rid of it! This tree is disappointing me, it’s taking up space and eating valuable resources and doing nothing productive. Cut it down!
That’s usually our first instinct: Cut it down. We see something we don’t like, we meet somebody who treats us wrong: Cut it down!
The disciples, while they were on the way with Jesus, reacted this same way. Just three verses into this journey, Jesus and his followers are rejected by the people in a Samaritan village:
“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” ~Luke 9:54
Burn ’em out! Turn this whole place into a giant sand trap! Cut ’em down!
We’re the same way. We something wrong, we rush in to make it right. We encounter sin in the world or sin in the church and we fly into action with accusations and judgments and violence. Something offends us or some person is useless to us or just taking up space in the Kingdom, not doing what I think they should be doing, and we either verbally or physical get rid of them. Cut him down! Cut her out! Get rid of it!
We like to solve problems by amputation. That’s our instinct.
According to our Lord’s story, though, the preferred solution is to wait.
“‘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
Notice the patience and restraint in that response. Leave it alone. And let’s spread around some manure. I want to write more about the manure tomorrow. Today, let’s look at the great contrast between “Cut it down” and “Leave it alone.”
There are times when brave and decisive action is demanded. And those times are exhilarating. It’s exciting to be in the middle of God’s action. But there are other times that demand restraint. There are times when the command from Christ is to not do something.
Sometimes Jesus says, “Go and do likewise” or “Come, follow me!” His commands move us, they push us. “Put out into the deep” or “Go make disciples!” But sometimes his commands stop us in our tracks. “Get behind me” or “Put your sword away.” “We’re not calling down any fire today” or “Leave it alone.”
This is a good lesson for us. I think this is a great lesson for me. I’m too quick to retaliate when I’ve been wronged; I need to be quicker to say, “I forgive you.” I’m too quick to correct others; I need to be quicker to say, “How can I help you?” Instead of evaluating and judging and fixing others, I need to be nurturing and caring and paying attention to others. Instead of chopping down, I need to leave alone.
The world desperately needs our patience and restraint. If we don’t forgive, who’s going to? If we don’t spread love and hope around all the hate and fear, who will? This world is full of people who demand and take; who’s going to give and give and give?