Parable Project: The Budding Fig Tree

The following is a short parable reported in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. I rely on Mark's Gospel, which is generally acknowledged as the earliest. It is reported at Mark 13:28.

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near."

It arises in the following context, also taken from Mark.

"So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’"

This is the sort of verse that drove me from any sort of faith as a young man. Clearly, each and every member of the generation hearing these words has been dead and gone for nearly two millenia now. What is is that has taken place?

Those who stake all on a literal interpretation of the Bible stumble at words such as these. But parables are more than literal expressions of fact. They are intended to be more than fact, to reflect a truth larger than any conceivable correspondence theory of truth. And, to those of you who do not garden or know trees, I insist that a fig is a bush, and not a tree. We have two on our property, both gnawed low by deer, but neither resembling a tree. A small point.

I do not look to the heavens and expect to see the Son of Man returning in a cloud of glory, or otherwise. Yet the message of wakefulness resonates.


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