Someone cut down my tree. It was a beautiful crepe myrtle that bloomed in the spring with fistfuls of confetti-white blossoms. I enjoyed the full branches as they wished me good morning while I ate breakfast. They sheltered my favorite cardinals close enough for me to see their beady black eyes looking at me. The tree was my shelter, too. Through spring and summer and early fall, we eat on our screened in porch where our open-armed tree gave us privacy.
But someone cut it down. In the gated community where we live, the tree is not really mine. Decisions about which trees need to go are not mine to make, either.
As I read Luke 13: 1-9, I wish a green-thumbed gardener had wanted to save my tree like the one who saved the fig tree in Jesus’ story. However, that would be the self-serving surface truth. I must dig deeper.
Jesus was responding to current events with people who had come to Jesus about what Pilate did. He had killed some Galileans as they sacrificed in Jerusalem. I find nothing unusual about these people’s anger about this senseless killing. I would have been angry as well. But what does the fig tree have to do with it?
One writer uncovered a connection I would never have seen. He identified the self-righteous anger blatantly present. For these Galileans who came to Jesus, the deaths emphasized the reason Jesus needed to do something their way. If he did, it would prove how right they were all along. They wanted Jesus to participate in their anger and right this egregious wrong. The implication is that they were more upset about their lack of control than they were about burying their countrymen; and what they really wanted was for Jesus to make their world better.
But he did not. He called into question their right to be judge and jury.
I don’t like this truth. The mirror the scripture raises reveals my own self-righteous anger. Somebody messed up my way of doing life when they cut down my tree. But I wanted to take it further. I wanted somebody to pay. Own up. Be guilty. Come back to my house with a new tree for penance. I would even be happy to see them on their knees at my door.
Anger that does not target sin is usually misguided and as wrong as whatever act it targeted. Jesus always taught against it. Anger to protect your own way or perspective. Anger to right wrongs that won’t make this world better for anyone but you. Anger that takes away energy that should be used to live abundantly. That is self-righteous anger camouflaged to look like you are interested in making something better for the greater good when what you really want is for someone to set your own little world right first. \
Self-righteous anger is a non-productive fig tree. It does no good for no one. But here’s where the story turns with a compassion I didn’t see coming. A kind gardener says, “Let me have a go at the tree. Let me fertilize, water, and tend it. Give me some time to help it turn around.”
Remember what the word for “turn around” is? Repentance. That’s what makes this story timely for Lent. In the middle of your pity-pout, angry vent, or Facebook rant; turn around. Jesus is there to help you grow back to true productivity. He helps you to produce more self-control than self-righteous anger. His fertilizer is His own life. He didn’t die to make the world right; He died to make your heart right.
I guess I need some new fertilizing.
Scripture to guide your way to the cross . . .
Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down. Luke 13:8-9
But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. Romans 2:8
In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Psalm 4:4b