The parables Jesus has told remain the most beautiful mode of communication in the Bible. Every parable presents the readers with invaluable messages to be reflected on. The 13th chapter of the gospel according to Luke also speaks of such a thoughtful imagery the Lord has put forward. The parable here has been crafted with the central character of a fig tree which fails to bear fruit. There is always a chance that our attention gets concentrated completely on this unfruitful nature of the tree. Though it remains the first message of the parable, a deeper reflection would lead us to other salient realms of the word. The master has approached the tree in search of fruits for the last three years. The situation in which the tree did not produce even a single fruit persuades him to take the decision to uproot it. Though there was enough time for the tree to prove its faithfulness, it has now become totally helpless and deprived of any more opportunities. It is then the Bible introduces another pivotal character of the gardener who pleads with the master for the longer life of the tree. He tells him: “Sir, let it be for this year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (Lk 13,8-9). This prayer of the gardener is the element that decides the further destiny of the fig tree. Since the word does not convey that the master went forward with his decision, he might surely have made up his mind to wait little longer. Jesus, through this significant imagery, calls everyone to think of the reason behind our longer life and the extended time of being gracefully nurtured. Sometimes we may tend to think that the life has been blessed through our own merit and the personal prayers we make before the master, but this passage of the gospel communicates something else in this regard. It is not the merit or faithfulness of the fig tree that saves its life, but the prayer and presence of the gardener. Therefore, the word reminds us not to forget the people who plead before the Lord not to deprive us of the blessingsthat we enjoy now. The gardeners like parents, relatives, religious, others who are dear to us and even the people whom we do not know bring about this response of the master’s mercy in our life. Though the present world witnesses a great rise in the number of the people who are least bothered about the presence of God, the prayers of others who are faithful to Him plays a vital role in keeping their life intact. The book of Deuteronomy presents a fabulous a message in this connection through the words of Moses. The people of Israel were often unfaithful and rebellious against God. The time they are blessed with the permission to enter the promised land, Moses tells them: “Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your 2 righteousness; for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; you have been rebellious against the Lord from the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place” (9,6-7). The words of Moses are very clear in reminding them of their unworthiness to receive the blessings from Yahweh. He also speaks of the reason why God has allowed them to enter the land: “I Lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water…For I was afraid that the anger that the Lord bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also” (9,18-19). Here Moses explicitly takes the role of the gardener whom we see in the parable of the New Testament. The nature of the Israelites was never something that could help them have a blessing like the promised land. Therefore, the mediation and the prayers of Moses were almost similar to the words of the gardener to the owner: “Sir, let it be for this year, until I dig around it and put manure on it” (Lk 13,8). This passage in the gospel according to Luke invites everyone of us to examine how many times the master has already listened to the gardeners who have prayed on behalf of us. If it had not happened, we would have surely been uprooted within this time. This reflection may now link our thoughts with the life of St. Augustine. St Augustine, St Monica’s son was seventeen when his father died. Monica and Patricius had three children out of whom St Augustine was the son who was to give his mother the worst heart aches. Though Augustine excelled in his studies, his behaviour became unacceptable to his mother. The case was not only that he went into lose living with women, alcohol and addictions of all kinds, but also he got attracted towards a cult called Manichaeism. One could only imagine the anguish of the poor mother Saint Monica. Monica never gave up her prayers for her son, but continued to fast, cry and beg God for his conversion. She was always approaching bishop Ambrose with the request to win her son over to the faith. The Bishop would often console her saying: “God’s time will come. Go now, it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish”. The words of Ambrose came true and the time came when Augustine was a successful teacher at the age of twenty nine and then, had to work under the guidance of the Bishop. Monica found that her son had at this stage given up Manichaeism. She again sought the help of Ambrose to inspire her son to give up his current lifestyle. Augustine, to her greatest Joy, not only embraced Christianity during an Easter celebration, but he decided to live a life of celibacy and devote himself to God’s service. St Augustine, was not only a wonderful Bishop, but later became one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Catholic church. It was the culminating point of God’s response to the prayers of his mother. Augustine was converted not 3 because that he decided to take any particular step in his life, but it happened solely because of the penitential life of his mother. Monica was always taking the role of the gardener and asked God, the master to extend the shower of graces in her son’s life. The second chapter of the gospel according to Mark also narrates an event where Jesus heals a paralytic (2,1-11). The word tells us that a great number of people had gathered around Jesus that there was no longer room for them. Then some people came, bringing to Him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. Jesus mercifully told the person: “son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2,5) and later, the Lord asked him to stand up and take his mat and walk. The passage very distinctly conveys the message that the paralytic was forgiven his sins and cured of his sickness because of the faith of the people who had brought him to Jesus. Those people were actually in the shoes of the gardener to plead for the sick person. There are so many similar examples that the Bible puts forward in this regard. It all invites us to think of the gardeners in our life and also to be aware of the fact that the blessings we enjoy in our life never spring from our merit or righteousness alone. There would be a number of people connected to our life who make the same prayer to the master: “Sir, let it be for this year, until I dig around it and put manure on it” (Lk 13,8). St. Paul tells: “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God’s mercy” (Rom 9,16) and we may add: ‘God’s mercy that flows into us through others’.
– Fr. John Erambil V.C.