A lesson from the greengage tree
Do you know what a ‘greengage’ is?
I had never even heard of the humble greengage before we moved to Gildersome. Then I discovered that we had a greengage tree in the garden. Even better, it produced a humungous crop of juicy, very tasty fruit within weeks of arriving.
This year things have been different. There’s barely any fruit on the tree. And what is there is diseased and, almost certainly, inedible.
Worse still, there is talk of cutting down the tree…
In Luke 13, we find one of Jesus’ lesser known parables. And I’m reminded that the problem of non-fruitful fruit trees is nothing new.
Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’ “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
Now this is a parable of course. A story with a deeper meaning.
Jesus’ couldn’t really give a fig about figs (if you’ll pardon my French!). This is a warning for us in the church. Jesus expects to see fruit. He has some patience to wait for that to happen – but that patience doesn’t extend indefinitely!
There’s plenty of things that go in churches that has gone way past their ‘sell by date’. We’ve been doing this group or that ministry in the same way for the past 50 years. It’s about 30 years since God used it to bear fruit – but we still keep doing it. After all, it was started by Elsie or Jim back in the day, and – well – it would be disrespectful to close it down now!
So, should we go through our churches and just get rid of unfruitful ministries? Well, let’s look at what Jesus said in our parable.
Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
Here’s a balance of caring, thoughtful pastoral ministry and the harsh reality of life. Give it another year (or maybe two!), put some fertilizer on it and let’s see what happens. Perhaps if we tweak a few things, put some energy into it, pray faithfully – it will flourish once again. If so, praise God – it’s a blessing!
But if nothing happens, well, perhaps God is trying to tell us something? Perhaps he wants that particular ministry to close – so that something new can get started?
Let’s not be sentimental about things that are past their sell-by date – but open to where God is leading us right now, and into the future.
So, we’re going to prune the greengage, fertilize it and see if produces a good crop next year. If it does…yummy! If it doesn’t… ‘where’s the chainsaw’….