Bella Vista Church of Christ



Jeff Grisham


Another Picture of Jesus


  Jesus was a master teacher. He used many different teaching methods as he came proclaiming the rule and reign of God that was breaking through. He delivered sermons to large crowds, such as the Sermon on the Mount. He taught smaller groups; such as the instructions he gives his closest followers in John 13-16. He taught individuals as we see in the exchange between him and the Samaritan woman in John 4. He used illustrations from nature, as well as illustrations from the current events from that day.


  One of Jesus’s most frequently used methods of teaching was the parable. These great stories allowed Jesus to reveal eternal truths and principles in ways that could be understood by those who heard him. As Bible students we know that these aren’t just cute little stories with a nice moral at the end that are designed to make us feel good. These are stories with definite implications and serious demands placed on those who would be part of the Kingdom. Some of these parables seem easy to understand, especially when Jesus gives the explanation as in the parable of the sower. Some of these parables leave us scratching our heads and wondering exactly what it is that Jesus meant, like the parable of the dishonest manager found in Luke 16. Several of the parables call for a response from the reader to determine what the end should be.


  It is one of these open-ended parables that I want us to consider in this article.  It is found in Luke 13:6-9.


And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9 ESV)


  That’s it. The parable ends and leaves us to wonder about the ending. What happened? Did the owner of the vineyard let the vinedresser dig around the tree and fertilize it? Did the tree bear fruit the next year? Who is the owner?  Who does the fig tree represent? What does it have to do with us?


  The question of who is represented here seems to be that God is the owner of the vineyard and Israel is the fig tree. God is looking for fruit, yet not finding any and time is short for Israel to repent and recognize what God is doing in the work of Jesus. God appears to be graciously giving another opportunity for his people to join in and be productive in his work. As we read the rest of Luke’s Gospel, we see that sadly most of the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah.


  That may help us to explain the parable, but we cannot simply be content just to find an explanation. This parable speaks to us today just as loudly and just as clearly as it did to those who heard it first. How will the story end for us? How will those of us who wear the name of Christ respond? God has given opportunities over and over again. We see this as God makes a way for fallen humanity to come back to him. We see it in the call of Abram, the Exodus from Egypt, the return from Babylon, and the coming of Jesus. God is gracious and patient, but eventually his patience will run out. This parable follows on the heels of Jesus’s statement, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” It seems that Jesus is asking his people, his church, those who claim to follow him what we will do with the time that God is graciously giving. Will we bear fruit? Will we join God in his work of reconciling the world to himself? Or will we just stand there and be cut down? The choice is ours, church. How will we finish the story?