Today's Gospel from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is from Matthew 7 and includes verse 19: So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.
Sometimes, our conscience and a sincere confession make us aware of our fruitless (or poisonously fruitful) living. And then again Satan, the accuser, sometimes manages to amplify our guilt and hand us over to "the spirit of bondage again to fear" (today's Epistle begins at Romans 8:12).
In either case, whether we experience healthy repentance or diabolical despair, we must welcome the merciful work of Jesus, whose good fruit can replace our worst.
The harsh note in Matthew 7:19 has a gentle accompaniment in Luke 13:
6 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. 7 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.’
8 “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. 9 If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
When we are fruitless, Jesus intercedes for us. He asks the Father for another season and he works on us to bring forth good fruit.
I get nervous about the work Jesus wants to do on me - a year with plenty of fertilizer? That's 12 months of BS. His attention lavished on me might not always be pleasant. But the alternative is to be cut down and burned. I'll take his season of manure, thank you very much.
I also note that the fig tree just stands there during the season of Christ's tending. The tree doesn't do anything but "take up space" while Jesus does the transforming work. How might I cease my struggling and striving and just let Jesus tend me?
Finally, I have to trust Jesus, because he alone knows the cost of bringing forth good fruit. His cross is called a tree. The fruit on that tree was anything but pretty:
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him (Isaiah 53:2).
Yet from that ugly vine clinging to the cross was crushed a vintage unlike any other - the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.
Barren passivity, manure, crushing and blood... not the most inspiring images. Yet all portray the loving work of our Savior, as he works with patient, personal care to bring forth the good fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
It is not just in the exciting, pleasurable and impressive seasons of our lives that Christ is blessing us. His best work might unfold during a year of BS.