Meditations on figs and vines in scripture: themes from Taste & See that show up as images of peace, abundance, mercy, hope and justice.

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. — Gwendolyn Brooks

The result will be fruit that blesses the world and reveals us as … a community of love. Together, we are so much more powerful than any of us can be on our own. However, this “together” isn’t out there, on our own even as a community, because our life force flows from the vine with which we are one. — Kathryn Matthews

Joy and happiness, by definition, are the … fruits of wholesome actions. — Dalai Lama

Questions to consider when thinking about the use of vines and figs as images and references in scripture:

  • ‘Under vines and fig trees’ is a frequent image embodying peace and abundance, as a blessing from God, in Hebrew scriptures. (Ex: Deuteronomy 8:7-10 and 1 Maccabees 14:11-12). What landscape, site, or place symbolizes spiritual peace and wellbeing to you? Is it wild or cultivated? What would you do (or not do) there? How would it taste, smell and sound? What would it look like? How would it feel to your touch? Would you be alone or with other people? What gifts would such a site or place offer to you?
  • Vines and fig trees can be long-lived, and also imply interdependence (see John 15: 1-17). They may require patience and time and skill to cultivate (see Luke 13: 6-9). In what ways do you need to adopt a long-term, even multi-generational, and interconnected view of life and the world? In what ways do you already live out such a spiritual practice?
  • Gardening, herding, tending vineyards and orchards, fishing and farming have all been used as a Biblical metaphors for caring for self, community and world. What contemporary metaphor or story would you use to describe the role of caring for yourself, other people and/or the environment?
  • Which spiritual fruit (list from Galatians 5) — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — do you believe you have received? Which ones do you wish you had? Which ones are you trying to grow? What isn’t on this list of spiritual fruits, that you would add?

Time and the Garden (excerpt) — Yvor Winters
The spring has darkened with activity.
The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree:
Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape,
Degrees and kinds of color, taste, and shape.
These will advance in their due series, space
The season like a tranquil dwelling-place.
And yet excitement swells me, vein by vein:
I long to crowd the little garden, gain
Its sweetness in my hand and crush it small
And taste it in a moment, time and all!
These trees, whose slow growth measures off my years …


The Worm’s Waking  — Rumi
      This is how a human being can change:
   there’s a worm addicted to eating grape leaves.
Suddenly he wakes up, call it grace, whatever,
something wakes him, and he’s no longer a worm.
He’s the entire vineyard, and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
    a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.


What The Figtree Said (excerpt)— Denise Levertov
… I was at hand,
a metaphor for their failure to bring forth
what is within them (as figs
were not within me). They who had walked
in His sunlight presence,
they could have ripened,
could have perceived His thirst and hunger,
His innocent appetite;
they could have offered
human fruits—compassion, comprehension—
without being asked,
without being told of need.
My absent fruit
stood for their barren hearts. He cursed
not me, not them, but
(ears that hear not, eyes that see not)
their dullness, that withholds
gifts unimagined.

Of Figs & Vines

Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig. I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen. — Epictetus

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne. — Marcus Aurelius

Eat figs! If I would say a certain type of fruit was sent down to us from the heavens I would say it’s a fig … — hadith of Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him)

Here it is in a nutshell: Old vines yield more concentrated fruit, resulting in richer wines with more sumptuous balance … Deep roots are a big asset too … — Beppi Crosario

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. — George Washington

Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. — Benjamin Franklin

I swear by the fig and the olive. — Surah At-Tīn (the fig), Qur’an

Today I begin a new life. Today I shed my old skin which hath, too long, suffered the bruises of failure ans the wounds of mediocrity. Today I am born anew and my birthplace is a vineyard where there is fruit for all. — Og Mandino

A great fig should look like it’s just about to burst its skin. When squeezed lightly it should give a little and not spring back. It must be almost unctuously sweet, soft and wet. — Yotam Ottolenghi

Probably the most revered tree in the world is Ficus religiosa, the sacred Bodhi, also known as Bo (from the Sinhalese Bo) of Burma, Ceylon and India. Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism later known as Gautama Buddha, achieves enlightenment, or Bodhi, beneath this tree. It is said he sat under its shade for six years while he developed his philosophy of the meaning of existence. The term “Bodhi tree” is widely applied to existing trees, particularly the sacred fig growing at the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya in the Indian State of Bihar. — W.P. Armstrong

The fig tree appears repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible … but it has been cultivated for much longer. Sumerian stone tablets dating back to 2500 B.C. record culinary use of figs, and remains of fig trees were found during excavations of Neolithic sites from 5000 B.C. Some historians consider it the first of the domesticated crops. Figs hold a position of symbolism in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism, representing fertility, peace, and prosperity. Ancient Olympians earned figs for their athletic prowess, and Pliny the Elder extolled the fruit’s restorative powers. The prophet Mohammed reportedly identified the fig as the one fruit he would most wish to see in paradise.— Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

However, there is also a communal response. In the garden of our universe there is a fig tree we call planet Earth, Mother Earth, Home. … Now, the owner comes to us and warns us with messages such as the pending global warming reality or the gradual water shortage that Earth’s death is coming soon. The answer must now be a shift in our understanding of the place of the human within the community of all beings rather than in a dominating position. We are all one. How willing are we … to cultivate and fertilize this new way of understanding? … connecting with others to work together for “the fig tree’s one more year of life.” … means showing what it looks like to have a consciousness of the universal connectedness of all life in our everyday activities. The gardener knows there is something more that can be done in cultivating and fertilizing the tree … If that can happen, the tree will get another chance to bear fruit. Today, we are the gardeners (with) … a window of opportunity to take action for the life of this one place we call home. Individually, we may not think we can make a difference but collectively there is no question we can and we must take the actions we know are needed to transform our lifestyle from one of perhaps unconscious consumption and violent exploitation into one of reverence and nonviolence … taking action as individuals and more effectively as groups on the systemic level. — Mary Elizabeth Clark

Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually the … scion of the tree, known as a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds are borne. It is a hollow-ended stem containing many flowers. — Jennifer, Vision & Thoughts blogger

Christian Commentary on Figs & Vines
The biblical quote “each man under his own vine and fig tree” has been used to denote peace and prosperity. — Jennifer, Thoughts & Visionsblogger

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome! — Martin Luther King

I am sure that in the story of Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit was a fig and not an apple, pear or anything else. — Yotam Ottolenghi

Some biblical scholars think the fig, and not the apple, was the forbidden fruit picked by Eve in the Garden of Eden. — W.P. Armstrong

The type of fig leaf which each culture employs to cover its social taboos offers a twofold description of its morality. It reveals that certain unacknowledged behavior exists and it suggests the form that such behavior takes. — Freda Adler

It is with good reason that God commanded Moses that the vineyard and harvest were not to be gleaned to the last grape or grain; but something to be left for the poor. For covetousness is never to be satisfied; the more it has, the more it wants. Such insatiable ones injure themselves, and transform God’s blessings into evil. — Martin Luther

In [Luke] the landowner has waited three years for fruit that didn’t appear, and still the gardener is willing and able to care for the [fig] tree and to intercede with the landowner to save it … Mercy is still possible. — Sarah Dylan Breuer

No one – but no one – plants a fig tree in their vineyard. A fig tree would consume too much ground water, the canopy would produce too much shade, and the fig tree would attract birds that would eat the grapes. So when you hear this story about a fig tree in a vineyard, you should be alert to the possibility that this story might have to do with something other than figs and grapes. Yet there is also grace entwined in the figs and vines … the grace that Jesus talks of come when we least expect it, in places we least expect, and from people we least expect. If you keep reading this section of Luke beyond what is presented today, you will hear Jesus telling stories about how God’s grace springs forth … at unexpected times … or in unexpected places, like this fig tree growing where it does not belong, in a vineyard. Give grace a chance, Jesus says. Let it grow. You never know where you will find it. — James Richardson

So I can relate to the poor fig tree in our parable … The fig tree that for whatever reason cannot produce.  I feel like that not infrequently, maybe you do too.  Unable to produce. … Maybe we are all fig trees in a way … — Nadia Bolz-Weber


We might imagine that Jesus had many human faults. He failed most humanly, in my reckoning, when he killed the fig tree just because it didn’t bear any figs for his breakfast; that was a disgraceful, bad-tempered thing to do, and to try and make a virtue of it by saying it was a demonstration of faith only made things worse. — Michael Leunig

Our Lord never condemned the fig tree because it brought forth so much fruit that some fell to the ground and spoiled. He only cursed it when it was barren. — Edwin Louis Cole

Charism is the fig tree that blooms in every season; it is the fireworks of the fourth of July of grace and God and Jesus! … the gifts of the life of Jesus, we’re told in 1st Corinthians, remain, nevertheless, because the spirit gives them now to us as carriers of these religious traditions and also to you as bearers of them anew. — Joan Chittister

Knowing that our God does give us another chance, do we respond by producing spiritual fruit that is pleasing to God? Do we live our lives with usefulness, working towards God’s intended purpose for us, working together as one body to achieve equality for all of God’s children? — Sally Herlong

Given Luke’s consistent picture of God’s reaction … perhaps the gardener is God, the one who consistently raises a contrary voice to suggest that the ultimate answer … isn’t punishment – not even in the name of justice – but rather mercy, reconciliation, and new life. — David Lose

Looking closely, we see the many entwined branches, winding their way around one another in intricate patterns of tight curls that make it impossible to tell where one branch starts or another one ends. This is not just intricate; it’s intimate, and the vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant … this vine is one with the branches … we find the best grapes close in to the vine, “where the nutrients are the most concentrated.” … This kind of abiding … showers us with “shalom, which speaks of wholeness, completeness, and health.” Here, close to the vine, immersed in shalom, we find not only nourishment but also hope and joy. — Kathryn Matthews


Reflections on prodigal love: themes from parable in Luke 15

When is love prodigal? When is it wasteful and exuberant to offer compassion and welcome though it may not be merited or appreciated? Some early theologians so feared this parable of prodigal love, that they decided it shouldn’t be told or taught … it offered a model that overturned good sense and economical, societal order. When have you been prodigal and excessive in your love? And would you do it again? When have you received such impractical generosity of heart? — Rev Gail

Song: Prodigal by Sidewalk Prophets

The Prodigal Son
(excerpt) Spencer Reece
For a decade I did not speak to my parents.
Are you listening to me? I will not bore you with details.
Instead, I will tell you something new. Listen to me.
I was angry. But the reasons no longer interest me.
I take the liberty of assuming you approve of forgiveness
… we discuss blessings, absolutions, consecrations—our work of the soul.
… Mother and father, forgive me my absence.
I will always be moving quietly toward you.

Blessing that Waits to Come to Your Aid — Jan Richardson
 When I have become / so reliant on myself
that I cannot see / the need that gnaws / so deep / in my soul,
open my eyes, open my heart, open my mouth
to cry out / for the help
that you do not ration, the deliverance
that you delight to offer / in glad and / generous measure.

Poem (excerpt) — Rumi
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
… You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Prodigal Love: Extravagant Welcome & Unearned Grace

We’re all being loved in spite of ourselves. — Richard Rohr

I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal, and offer a festive meal must become my own.  ― Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

The pattern of the prodigal is: rebellion, ruin, repentance, reconciliation, restoration. — Edwin Louis Cole

We are so afraid of letting people off the hook. We are so resentful of unearned love. Unless we happen to be the ones toward whom the father is running, with his arms wide open and tears wetting his beard. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The story of the Prodigal Son is a story about hearts: selfish hearts and generous hearts, closed hearts and open hearts, cold hearts and warm hearts, broken hearts and joyful hearts, unrepentant hearts and repentant hearts, unforgiving hearts and forgiving hearts, resentful hearts and grateful hearts. It reveals so much about the vagaries of the human heart. When all is said and done it is the heart that matters. … The heart is what I am deep down. It is the real me. Darkness of heart is the blackest night of all. Emptiness of heart is the greatest poverty of all. A heavy heart is the most wearisome burden of all. A broken heart is the deepest wound of all. But the parable reveals how steadfast is the heart of God. — Flor McCarthy

The eyes of mercy are quicker than the eyes of repentance. Even the eyes of our faith are dim compared with the eye of God’s love. … It means much love truly felt; for God never gives an expression of love without feeling it in His infinite heart. — Charles Spurgeon

The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” ― Henri Nouwen

Prodigal Child

… the prodigal figure is at work in us when we go racing through the candy store of life, unaware of the price of the going and comingor the cost. We are takers who gather everything we can to ourselves, or squander it or do nothing, and then discover that life demands back everything it gives in ways we never dreamed. — Joan Chittister

In relation to my practice, I am the prodigal son when I live in forgetfulness and self-centeredness. When I hurry … because I am attached to my agenda, I waste the precious gift of life in the present moment. When I come back to my breath, I seek the peace of mindfulness … — Mark LeMay, from Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

And, like the prodigal son, he had returned broken in body and also in mind to the house where he had been born … ― Catherine Cookson

The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son — when he started back home. ― O. Henry, The Green Door

The back door beckons to a prodigal son. ― Michael Davidow

It was his home now. But it could not be his home till he had gone from it and returned to it. ― G.K. Chesterton

… and it was the son’s new revelation of his poverty of heart that propelled him back into his Father’s arms. ― Tommy Tenney

But at least you and I have this in common: I know what it’s like to hunger.  To hunger for love, for depth, for passion, for joy. And I know what it’s like to imagine an exotic Elsewhere, a more perfect nourishment miles away from my Father’s all-too-familiar table. I know what it’s like to “come to myself” in the broken, impoverished places of my own foolish fashioning, and to long for the warmth and sustenance of a home. — Debie Thomas

Once a person learns to read the signs of love and thus to believe it, love leads him into the open field wherein he himself can love. If the prodigal son had not believed that the father’s love was already waiting for him, he would not have been able to make the journey home – even if his father’s love welcomes him in a way he never would have dreamed of. ― Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible

So when I reject my identity as beloved child of God and turn to my own plans of self-satisfaction, or I despair that I haven’t managed to be a good enough person, I again see our divine Parent running toward me uninterested in what I’ve done or not done, who covers me in divine love and I melt into something new like having again been moved from death to life and I reconcile aspects of myself and I reconcile to others around me. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Offering Exuberant Love: Prodigal Parent

Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope. — John Ciardi

But the real Prodigal in this story is your Father, is he not?  Over-the-top, undignified, and hair-raising in his love? —  Debie Thomas

You never depart from us, but yet, only with difficulties do we return to You. ― Saint Augustine, Confessions

This father is not content to have one child without the other; he advocates for and seeks out both. — Barbara Brown Taylor

When the prodigal son returned … The father accepts his son with loving-kindness and rejoices at his return. He greets the prodigal son warmly and rejoices at his return. The father’s response is a model for how I can treat myself when I stray from the path of mindfulness … I try not to cling to or repress my shame and anger. I notice these feelings and return to my breath. My feelings cannot be removed with aggression. I recognize them as part of the fold, and each time I return to the path, I say to myself (paraphrasing Thay), “I have arrived; welcome home.” — Mark LeMay, Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

… let us remember that God is the prodigal Father, who refuses to give us the love we deserve, but instead who gives the love we need.  … who waits patiently for His lost children to return. When He sees us from a long way off, He runs to welcome us. … feels our absence … steps outside to be with us, and waits patiently for our response. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The father wants not only his young person back, but his elder son as well … The father … wants both to participate in his joy … Thus the father’s unreserved, unlimited love is offered wholly and equally. He does not compare the two sons. He expresses complete love according to their individual Journeys. — Henri Nouwen

… your relationship to God is simply not defined by your really bad decisions or your squandering of resources.  But also your relationship to God is not determined by your virtue. It is not determined by being nice, or being good … Your relationship to God is simply determined by the wastefully extravagant love of God.  A God who takes no account of risk but runs toward you no matter what saying all that is mine is yours. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Older Child: The One Who Stayed Home, Yet Was Also Lost

… But here’s your vindication: the power in this story is yours … Your Father stands in the doorway, awaiting your company. You get to write his ending. What will you do, as the music grows sweeter? What will we choose, you and I? — Debie Thomas

There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.― Henri Nouwen

The fatted calf, the best Scotch, the hoedown could all have been his too, any time he asked for them except that he never thought to ask for them because he was too busy trying cheerlessly and religiously to earn them. ― Frederick Buechner

The older son squandered his freedom by not thinking he had any. He didn’t believe that all that was the Father’s was his. He squandered the gifts of the Father by living a life of mirthless duty. And coming home from the field he hears the party underway and resents such a lavish show of love thinking it a limited resource. He was being a complete ass and yet again, the Father comes to him reminding him of the great love he has for his child. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

The third character, the elder son, remained faithful to his father while his younger brother squandered his inheritance. … The story does not explore the elder son’s feelings, aside from his anger. I can easily imagine him also feeling resentful, wounded, and suspicious. These feelings are familiar, for I have held them toward others and towards myself … I wake up to the suffering caused when I stray from mindfulness, I feel critical and suspicious of myself … I sometimes feel the sting of shame … I feel both the guilt of the prodigal son, and the angry suspicion of the elder brother toward myself … Each time I catch myself living in forgetfulness and feel the prodigal son and his brother in my heart, I try to remember the father. — Mark LeMay, Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

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