Nurturing Amidst the Suffering


Luke 13:1-9

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

One hobby that I have attempted for a while now is caring for and growing bonsai, the Japanese art form of creating little trees. My first experience was in college when I received a bonsai beginners kit which allowed you to start your bonsai from the very beginning as a seedling. That first attempt was not very successful. I tried again some years later and managed to overwater another bonsai and thus kill it. While on internship during seminary we had the awesome experience of going to a bonsai show at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and my interest in bonsai was re-stoked. This time we got a couple of bonsai with the hope of being successful. Our cats did not have the same perception of the trees that we did. They would rather eat them. Thus, my experimentation with bonsai came to an end for a while.

When reading from Luke this morning and the parable of the fig tree I am reminded of my own failures at attempting to nurture and bring something to fruition. In our failures we suffer and most of the time it does not feel good. Honestly, it is awful and we get discouraged to try new things or to even continue in whatever it was that we were attempting in the first place. When we fail it brings upon us a sense of suffering.

If there is one thing within the world that many of us would do away with, suffering would be right at the top of the list. Suffering is uncomfortable. Suffering is painful. Suffering brings up too many questions of why. However, suffering is a part of the human experience that is unavoidable.

Not only do we witness the suffering in Jesus’ parable as the landowner wants to be rid of that which will not bear fruit, we also witness suffering at the beginning of our lesson as Jesus speaks of the evil of Pilate. The reference to the Galileans whose blood was mingled with the sacrifices speaks to an unimaginable suffering and shows the contempt that Pilate had for religions other than that of the Roman Empire. Suffering is also present in the eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Often times when things like this happen we want to ask why. Why does God allow this to happen?

First, God does not allow this to happen, nor does God cause the terrible tragedies in the world that some tv evangelists would like you to believe. Second, God is present right by our side and weeping along side us as we wonder and wander amidst the suffering that happens within our lives and communities. It is the sin of the world that welcomes the suffering and misdirects our ways. Sin and suffering do tend to have a connection as we look at the treacherous ways of Pilate as well as those in our own society today that bring about suffering from their violent acts.

Suffering is not a form of punishment as some may like to think. God does not bring suffering into our lives because of something that we failed to do or something that we even did wrong. Suffering is not a form of punishment for our sins. God’s answer to the sin of the world is not punishment.  God brings to the world a loving presence which breaks through all of the suffering when we open our hearts to its warmth and compassion.

If we venture deeper into the parable of the fig tree, we quite often want to assign God as the landowner that oversees all of the property. This is common since we see God as the author of all creation. In this respect, we then want to place Jesus in the garden bargaining with the landowner to please give him just a little more time to see this tree produce the fruit that you are expecting. I must nourish it and give it good fertilizer for that to happen. The suffering here occurs in the form of inaction. What if this is just a misinterpretation of this parable, which is most likely the case. Nowhere else do we see God in Luke as an angry and vindictive landowner that wants to be rid of those that are not bearing fruit and being calmed by Jesus. Luke instead portrays God as love and always waiting to share that love with those that have found their course veering in a different direction.

What if we are the landowners in Jesus’ parable of the fig tree? What if we are the ones that are quick to do away with those things in our lives that are not bearing any fruit? Do we have little patience to wait and see what will happen when the gardener tills and fertilizes the soil? Perhaps we as the landowners promote our own sense of how the world should work; we do not like to wait and we want things just the way that we like them and there just is not any room for something that is going to take a little while to grow.

As the landowner, we are met in the garden by love. The gardener has been there from the very beginning caring for creation and nurturing all things. God is the gardener. God is patient with us in all of our imperfections and all of our sin. God comes to us bearing good soil that is full of nutrients that encourage our growth and foster our relationship in God. In the garden we can learn how to care for those things that test us and that we so quickly want to push out of our way.

We can learn many things from Jesus and the example he has set for us in his walk. Our faith is nurtured as we allow God to feed and nurture us in the garden instead of trying to make things work the way we want them to.

Does the barren fig tree bear fruit when we let God nurture it? Most definitely! This season of Lent is a time for us to be nurtured and open to a deeper and truer relationship with God as we turn back to our baptism and are reminded of the covenant that was made with us on that day. We are marked with the sign of Christ forever!

I have attempted the art of bonsai again. I currently have two bonsai trees that are a testament to what being patient and learning can result in. This time I learned from those that are experienced bonsai growers. All it takes is just the right amount of love and nurturing to grow a healthy and vibrant bonsai.

You are loved and nurtured by the gardener that calls us all into creation. May you be open to that love and nurturing as we continue into Lent.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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