Midweek Faith Lift
September 14, 2022
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
August 10, 2022
Captain Holly Pettit and First Officer Keely Petitt made Southwest Airlines history when they became the first-ever mother/daughter pilot duo. Holly began her aviation career fresh out of college as a flight attendant, then earned her pilot’s license. Keely knew as a 14-year-old that she wanted to follow in her mom’s footsteps. The two women are breaking barriers and empowering other women to pursue their dreams.
“Embrace who you are and your divine purpose. Identify the barriers in your life, and develop discipline, courage, and the strength to move beyond them. Keep moving forward.” – Germany Kent, The Hope Handbook
Affirmative prayer: Infinite Presence, I give thanks for life pioneers. For their visionary and generous hearts, and for the patterns of love and success that they forge. Today, I discern a divine pattern within me, see myself as worthy and capable, and act upon its grand realization. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
What a great story of perseverance and persistence! I can only imagine the hurdles these two intrepid women had to navigate, both external and internal! There had to have been numerous obstacles which they both faced before they found themselves in the cockpit of a 737 Southwest Airlines jet together. I don’t think I can even imagine it! And their story fits perfectly with the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, our topic for today, which is also called The Law of Delay. I was not familiar with this parable in Luke 13:6-9 which reads like this:
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the man working the vineyard, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” (NRSV-UE)
There is a lot packed into this short parable especially as related to fruit trees. Dr. Michael, in The Hidden Parables of Jesus,” relates a story about his first experiences of planting an apple tree. He learned a whole lot about it from a local orchard owner in the backwoods of central Kentucky. Dr. Michael planned to heavily fertilize it as he planted it. John the orchard owner was not impressed and advised against this plan. He educated Dr. Michael about fruit trees! The slower a fruit tree grows, the more fruit it will produce when it comes of age. The more you prune them and the less you fertilize them, the more flowers they will produce and the more fruit will come on the branches when they come of age, producing better and more flavorful apples. When you heavily fertilize at the beginning, you will get a very strong tree, but no apples!
How interesting! Timing is critical in the process of fertilization. I had no idea about this at all, but it really is a great metaphor for our spiritual growth. We can be a lot like trees, can’t we? Growing really slowly before we see any real outcome of note. Apparently, the stressors that we encounter over time are a significant factor in our developing spiritual and emotional maturity. If it is all too easy, we don’t develop the capacity for persistence and perseverance! We have been learning, as Dr. Michaels says on p.168 of The Hidden Parables:
…..that we are required to shift our reliance from matter to spirit, and from doubt to trust—to cultivate a mind-set of confidence. We also know from other parables that, via the powerful process of forgiveness….we are supposed to be releasing negative psychic energy, resentments and debts.
All of those resentments, grudges, grievances and hurts that we may have hoarded actually serve as compost or fertilizer for our higher self and our heart’s desires to emerge into manifestation. It just takes time and patience and the right timing.
That is also a part of the essential message in this parable. The roles are reversed from the story of Dr. Michael and his apple tree. In this case, the owner of the fig tree is putting demands on the fig tree to produce or else! After all, it has been three years and that should be enough. This time it is the gardener who is the teacher, who advises him to wait one more year. The number three is worth noting in this parable, as it again references the trinity—our human self, divine self and observer self. The human self of the owner wants to take action and the wisdom of the observer self of the gardener advises him to pause and wait. How wonderful it is that a teacher has appeared to bring this impatient, demanding fig tree owner back into wholeness, into the consciousness of oneness, of waiting one more year. Timing in every part of our life is critical and it is such a blessing when there is a teacher who reminds us of that.
When we are in an uncomfortable growth process, it is understandable that we just want to “cut it down” and be done with it. This is especially true when most of the growth is invisible to us, much like the roots of the tree. For the tree to sustain life, the root system has to go as deep into the earth as the tree is tall. How true that is of us as well. Our spiritual energy and emotional maturity have to become deeply rooted and grounded for our mind, body and spirit to sustain the growth and begin to manifest our highest and best good. As much as we would like it to be a few affirmations here and there, a few prayers, and maybe 6 weeks, well it is not like that. Usually we have a lot of compost to deal with and apply in the fullness of time for our good to sustainably manifest.
That description “sustainably manifest” is a description worth noting. I remember quite a few years ago I was part of the Silent Unity Singers at Unity of Des Moines. We were doing a program, which had quite a few parts to it as a fund-raiser for the church. We had a decent sized choir and several really good singer/soloists. We rehearsed on the Saturday afternoon prior to the concert and the rehearsal was flawless. We were psyched and ready to go…..to hell in a hand basket the next afternoon during the actual performance on Sunday afternoon.
Oh my goodness!! It was one missed cue and mistake after another and another and another. What a train wreck! It was embarrassing; so bad we did not ask for any donations. That’s bad! It would have been much better if our director had made some deliberate mistakes and actually caused us to make mistakes during the rehearsal. That way, we would have developed a greater awareness of all the cues and memory for what was next during the program. Mistakes are the compost from which we realize our dreams. Mistakes make us wake up and really pay attention to what we need to learn for our next right step.
In Unity, we don’t like to talk much about sin, which is “missing the mark” and that is too bad, a real loss for our spiritual growth. How will we have any compost to fertilize our growth if we don’t mess up and “sin” and miss the mark? Life brings us many, many challenges, which we want to navigate with ease and grace and minimal distress. However, there is a middle way between minimal stress and maximum distress that opens a way for our deepest and highest good to sustainably manifest. As Dr. Michaels notes on p. 166 of The Hidden Parables of Jesus:
Spiritual evolution, after all, is the ultimate reason we are here on earth in the first place, and our lives are designed with precision and care to offer us a framework for personal growth.
That spiritual evolution frequently involves painful pruning of our old beliefs, relationships, our physical stuff, our livelihood, our attachments and more. All of the pruned away material becomes the compost for our ongoing spiritual and emotional maturity to manifest if we remain patient enough to see it.
When I think about the two women in the opening story, the mother/daughter duo who are major airline pilots, I can only imagine what had to be pruned away for them to realize their dreams. When we do that necessary and sometimes painful pruning, we are open to the teachers who are there to show us the way, the next right step. When we are cultivating a dream that is a larger picture of ourselves that we have so far been able to see, that is going to take awhile. And as with Dr. Michael and his apple tree and gardener and the owner of the fig tree, we pray to recognize and then heed our teachers. We don’t know who they will be or where they will show up so our journey is to stay “prayed up” so that we are open and receptive when they do.
You have all, no doubt, heard the old story about the man standing on his roof during a terrible flood, praying for God to save him. First comes a life jacket, then a boat, and each time he says, “No, God will save me.” Then a helicopter comes, and he still says, “No, God will save me.” Finally, the man drowns and when he is in heaven, standing before God, he cries in anguish, “I waited for you and you did not come!” And God replies, “What do you mean? I sent a life jacket, a boat and a helicopter, for heaven’s sake!”
May we stay prayed up, awake and aware of all that is before us for our heart’s desires and our highest good to manifest in every way.
Blessings on the Path,