Contributor: Drew Jackson

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ {Luke 13:6-9}

As Jesus and his disciples continued on their way, he began to tell them a parable about a certain man who owned a vineyard. In this vineyard was a fig tree that was notorious for its fruitlessness. The owner of the vineyard suggests cutting the fig tree down because it takes up space in the vineyard and uses nutrients that would benefit other trees, but the gardener asks if the tree can be given one more year. There are some certain things the gardener wants to do for the tree to see if it is capable of bearing fruit at all.

Any of Jesus’ listeners, upon hearing this parable, would have been reminded of ‘The Song of the Vineyard’ found in Isaiah 5. Of note to us is that in this poem is described the fruit that God is looking for when coming to inspect the vineyard. Hear the words of the prophet:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts

is the house of Israel,

and the men of Judah

are his pleasant planting;

and he looked for justice,

but behold, bloodshed;

for righteousness,

but behold, an outcry! {Isa 5:7}

Justice and righteousness are the expected fruit of the lives of the people of God.

The driving force of this poem is found in Isaiah’s word choice in the Hebrew. The word for justice (mishpat) is eerily similar to the word for bloodshed (mispah); and the word for righteousness (tsedaqah) is very close to the word for ‘a cry’ (tse’aqah). The point is this: that what might look like justice from afar actually produces bloodshed when inspected closely; and what looks like righteousness from a distance actually leads to cries of pain from suffering people. This is a sobering word for us.

When we take justice into our own hands instead of allowing God to determine for us what genuine justice looks like, we end up perpetuating oppression.

We see this type of “justice” present within our society on many different levels. Our current criminal justice system is just one of those places where we see mispah instead of mishpat.

Part of our job as the people of God is to call out faux justice when we see it, and work toward genuine justice that is shaped by the heart and mind of God.

God has promised that, in due time, all false justice will be exposed and done away with. God will establish true justice in the earth, and no longer will be heard the cries of pain from those suffering under the foot of injustice.

What kind of justice does the tree of your life bear? Let this question linger with you.

Reflection Questions:

1. Spend some time reflecting on the question above.

2. What is the responsibility of God’s people to work toward uprooting false systems of justice?

3. How might your community engage in this work?