In reflecting on this gospel
parable, I found a message of hope. Unlike in Mark or Matthew’s
gospel parable about the fig tree, Luke’s fig tree parable has
a different message. There is hope underlining the work of the gardener.
In other words, the gardener realizes something can be done to save
the tree. It is not about the cause of death, but it is about the
time left prior to death.
The lesson can be applied both to us as individuals or to us as a
Congregation, a church or a society. What are we doing with the time
we have before death - our own or that of our Earth? Are we exhausting
the soil? Taking up space, barren of fruit? These are concerns of
The gardener begs for more time and also works at doing something
productive by cultivating the ground and adding fertilizer before
asking that it not be cut down. Applied to ourselves as individuals,
this message will carry personal meaning. Each of us will heed that
meaning in her own way.
However, there is also a communal response. In the garden of our universe
there is a fig tree we call planet Earth, Mother Earth, Home. For
the last thirty or more years we have been growing in knowledge of
ecological death and destruction. We have heard lots of information
about the threatening nature of human exploitation of Earth’s
resources. Now, the owner comes to us and warns us with messages such
as the pending global warming reality or the gradual water shortage
that Earth’s death is coming soon. The answer must now be a
shift in our understanding of the place of the human within the community
of all beings rather than in a dominating position. We are all one.
How willing are we, women religious and others who profess a lifestyle
of following Christ more closely, to cultivate and fertilize this
new way of understanding? Could it be by way of contemplation in action?
To contemplate, as Joan Chittister,OSB, says is to be “transformed
from within. The contemplative becomes a new kind of presence in the
world, signaling another way of being, seeing with new eyes and speaking
with new words the Word of God. The contemplative can never again
be a complacent participant in an oppressive system. From contemplation
comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of
life but the courage to model it, as well.” (“From Contemplation
to Justice” by Joan Chastiser, OSB Broadcast on December 4,
Once upon a time, there was a group of women called Sisters of Earth
in North America. They had thrived for 10 years teaching in many schools,
nursing the marginalized and ready for any good work. And then, something
miraculous happened. One by one, the sisters became so conscious of
the part they could play at that most critical time of Earth’s
vulnerability, when Earth’s ozone layer was about to dissolve
and the warnings about global warning were at their peak, that they
decided they would rise to the challenge as a group and do everything
in their power to respond to the warnings. They chose to act as one.
They began to see themselves as one with Earth, most precious to them
of all creation. No longer did they take the Earth's gifts for granted
or use water indiscriminately. Every local community of which they
were a part committed itself to recycle everything possible. Each
sister thought carefully about driving a car versus using public transportation
as a spiritual discipline. Praying together included a concern for
Earth’s survival and each of them took on the practice of connecting
with other groups who were working for ecological sustainability as
a matter of urgency.
Soon, the sisters were known as agents of change for Earth’s
survival and all over the country they were connecting with others
to work together for “the fig tree’s one more year of
life.” Through their practice of contemplation they felt the
action of God moving through them. It was a miracle!
Yes, living a contemplative lifestyle, today, means showing what it
looks like to have a consciousness of the universal connectedness
of all life in our everyday activities. We do this with each other
and with all those whom we encounter. Many others are working hard
to communicate this message of Earth’s survival. Are we influenced
by them? Would others be influenced by our example to live more consciously
an awareness of this pending danger to Earth?
The gardener knows there is something more that can be done in cultivating
and fertilizing the tree within the time given by the owner. If that
can happen, the tree will get another chance to bear fruit. Today,
we are the gardeners and the owner gives us a window of opportunity
to take action for the life of this one place we call home. Individually,
we may not think we can make a difference but collectively there is
no question we can and we must take the actions we know are needed
to transform our lifestyle from one of perhaps unconscious consumption
and violent exploitation into one of reverence and nonviolence. We
can reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions, recycle to a zero waste level
and conserve the world’s water supply, by taking action as individuals
and more effectively as groups on the systemic level.
These are no longer ideas that we can afford to ignore. There is,
as in the parable “another year left before the tree will be
cut down.” Ecologists say there are about ten years left before
the irreparable harm is done.
Our life of contemplation draws us into the heart of the Divine Owner
of the garden. If we are to be credible witnesses to our lifestyle,
we will rise in the morning with our hearts joined as one and make
even the smallest action of our day a cultivation of love for our
Earth, a creation of our Divine Lover. There is so much we hope to
pass on. Let us beg for the grace to respond with hard work and zeal,
for the time is short and the task is great. Then, we may hope to
bear fruit in the future and the fig tree will have another chance