We inherited fruit trees when we moved into our home nearly two decades ago: Plum, cherry and peach with thornless blackberry bushes thrown in as a bonus. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Naturally, when the season came, we were looking for fruit.
Peaches were not forthcoming.
The tree looked pitiful, leaning crookedly to one side with gnarled, dead limbs. That first fall, I got a book on pruning and went to work, knowing that once the beneficial whacking was done I could expect nothing the following spring. The tree would skip a year of bearing.
Three years in the little tree popped with gorgeous and fragrant peach blossoms. Then they were gone! No flowers = no fruit. We quickly discovered Bambi & Co. visited our yard to graze on all things green.
Fast forward: When blossoms managed to survive to produce fruit one year, the tiny peaches were infested by hole-boring bugs that left sticky black goo in their wake. I invested in organic sprays. Another time, plump peaches promised a real harvest. They began to turn yellow and smell delicious. Overnight they vanished.
- In desperation, the next year my husband strung habanero peppers around the tree like Christmas lights to ward off the deer. Later, he caught a glimpse of squirrels in the tree knocking our precious peaches to the ground – half eaten.
- Determined to have peach rewards for our labor, we plucked a few to ripen in the window sill one year before leaving on vacation, knowing there would be nothing left when we returned.
This year, my husband had enough. He insisted on chopping the tree down. “It’s no good,” he’d say repeatedly. “Just taking up space. Might as well start over.”
I begged him to leave it alone another year. I sprayed it. I talked to it. Life got busy and I forgot it.
One day he was mowing and stopped near the tree. Were those peaches beneath the full leaves? Indeed, they were. After 17 years of nursing this tree, we harvested 9 good-sized organic peaches. Fuzzy, vine-ripened, full-flavored with a little blush on the skin. Absolutely worth the wait!
This year’s harvest was the fruit of patience and mercy. The tree didn’t deserve it, but its survival depended on it.
In Luke 13, Jesus shares the parable of a man who is repeatedly disappointed to find not a single fig on a well-tended fig tree. The tree took and took and gave nothing in return. The owner determined to get rid of it. The gardener asked for another year to tend and nourish it. If it still produced nothing, the owner was free to axe it.
In a prior conversation Jesus and the disciples discuss a disaster that left 18 men dead after a tower fell on them. Did the disciples imagine the men who perished were more wicked sinners than others in the city? Jesus said they were not: “No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:5)
Our peach tree brought this story home for me. That tree is my life’s story and perhaps yours, too. I have received much and returned little: a mix of no fruit, wormy fruit, spoiled fruit, small fruit, only occasionally good fruit and not enough of it.
I live not because I am any more consistent or any less sinful than those whose graves I have stood over. I live – each of us lives – because God has mercifully given us more time. Each day is a gift and an opportunity. He waits patiently for those of us who claim to be Christ followers to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:8)
Even so, the day will come when our time is up.
“Indeed, the ax is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)