Third Sunday of Lent
““‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘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
Scripture: Luke 13:1-9
Painting: “Almond Blossom” by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890.
Van Gogh was an avid admirer of Japanese art, and in particular, of the ways Japanese artists studied and depicted nature. “If we study Japanese art,” he wrote, “we see a human being who is undoubtedly wise, philosophic and intelligent, who spends his time doing what? In studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. In studying Bismark’s policy? No. He studies a single blade of grass.”
Indeed, for Vincent, the best Japanese artists “live in nature as though they themselves were flowers,” and Western artists should follow their lead: “we must return to nature in spite of our education and our work in a world of convention.”
Accordingly, when he moved from Paris to Arles, in the South of France, Vincent declared, “Here my life will become more and more like a Japanese painter’s, living close to nature...” Even during his stay in the Saint Rémy asylum, he wrote that the central, driving idea of his work was “to think that a field of wheat or a cypress is well worth the trouble of looking at close up” (Letters to Theo, #540, #543, and #596)
In his parables, Jesus often draws on imagery from nature and agriculture, worlds with which his listeners were intimately familiar. Human life, this week’s parable suggests, should be “fruitful” – and God expects the fruits of love and justice to abound in our lives and communities.
Jesus compares the situation to a farmer who plants a fig tree, and then, when it fails to bear fruit, makes arrangements to cut it down. But the gardener compassionately intervenes, requesting one more year; with carefully applied fertilizer, the tree may bear fruit yet!
In “Almond Blossom,” we encounter not only the fruitfulness of nature, but also Vincent’s desire to learn from his Japanese counterparts, as well as his efforts to bear fruit as an artist himself. For him, painting wasn’t just a way of recording or depicting nature; it was a way of “living close to nature,” both for the painter and for the viewer.
Learning from the almond blossom and the fig tree, we may ask: What “fruit” do we hope to bear in our lives this week, this year, this season of life? What “fertilizer,” what nourishment and support do we need – and how can we provide that support to others?
This week begin each day by lighting a candle of creation, praying, “God of love, help us bear fruit today. Inspire us to live in ways that enliven the world, protect the vulnerable, and care for creation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
+ Take a “close up nature walk” this week, intentionally looking for small beauties we might otherwise overlook. Twigs, mosses, lichen, fungi, blossoms, buds, blades of grass – anything small is fair game. And if you’re so inclined, start a sketchbook to remember your discoveries. As Vincent insists, such looking is “well worth the trouble”!
+ The point of the parable Jesus tells is to underscore how much God wants and expects us to bear fruit of love and justice in our lives, not at some point later on, but right here, right now. What sort of fruit do you think he has in mind?
What concrete steps can we take this week?
What “fertilizer” can we lay down for the sake of future fruit, for ourselves and for others?