Home > 555. The Golden Thread, E. Religion: palimpsest & reconstruction > The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree


Christmas is just around the corner, and RT would like to honor the moment and inaugurate his Golden Thread branch by offering one of his more extensive reconstructions to date: a complete telling of the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree.

Why does this parable need reconstructing? The short answer is that the reader never finds out what happens to the tree. In fact, when RT re-read the parable a few years ago, it struck him that the extant story preserves a perfectly acceptable (from a storyteller’s point of view) introduction to what must once have been one of Jesus’ longer stories. So, after doing some research and thinking about Jesus’ literary style and his themes, RT put together the following piece. Readers should note that all text in italic is original; all roman type is the author’s original addition.

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6 and Apocalypse of Peter 2)

Reconstructed by Eric Quinn, 2012

A man owned a vineyard with a large fig tree growing at its edge.  He went out regularly to inspect the tree, and when he saw that it was producing no fruit, he summoned his vinekeeper, who had worked for him less than a year.  “What’s going on?” he asked.  “I’ve been keeping an eye on my fig tree, and for three years it’s produced nothing.  The tree’s shade prevents vines from growing on a large patch of ground, and its roots are robbing the soil of water my grapes need.  Why haven’t you cut it down?”

The vinekeeper hesitated, then replied: “I am fond of the tree; it is beautiful, and its shade is welcome in summer.  I’ve also heard that it can go for years without producing figs, then drop so many that people in the road spread out their shirts to catch them.  If you let it stand another year, I’ll fertilize it with dung and tend its roots.  If it doesn’t produce after that, I’ll cut it down.”

When the owner heard this, he was angry: “I will let the tree stand as you suggest, but on one condition: that if after a year it is still barren, you must find another employer. I cannot tolerate a steward who lets my land lie idle.”

So with some determination, the vinekeeper began to pay special attention to the fig tree, giving it extra water and carefully placing manure around its roots.  But he soon realized that he knew nothing about figs: he would have to get help if the tree was going to bear fruit.


First the vinekeeper visited a neighboring fig plantation and talked to the workers.  But they said: “Sorry!  We’re sworn to secrecy and can’t reveal any of our methods.”  Then he went to a vineyard and spoke to his friends there: “We’ve helped each other out before, and I know some of you have worked in fig orchards.”  But they only said, “Sorry!  Your grapes grow so well, we know you’ll find an answer.”  Frustrated and anxious, the vinekeeper started to walk back to his master’s fields.

Halfway home, he found the road blocked by a large flock of goats.  One of the goatherds paused and asked why he looked so sad.  Needing someone to talk to, the vinekeeper told her his story.  The girl laughed and said, “I know the answer! We used to rest our flock in your fig tree’s shade.  Then the owner cut down the goat-fig tree and chased us away.”

When the vinekeeper asked her what a goat-fig tree was, she replied, “Every fig has a mate-tree, which produces barren, sour figs that only goats like to eat. Somehow its seed gets into its mate.  Without its goat-fig tree, no regular fig can produce fruit.”

Overjoyed, the vinekeeper sought out his master and told him how to get the tree to bear fruit.  Though impressed with his servant’s diligence, the owner was reluctant to spend money on anything but his grapes, and put off buying the goat-fig.  Finally, the vinekeeper begged, “Please! If you don’t act soon, we won’t have any figs!”  The owner relented and bought the tree, which his servant planted at once.

Everyone waited eagerly for spring.  But the fig tree produced no prefigs, and its second crop was disappointing: only a handful of edible fruit.  Now the owner was in a quandary—he hadn’t thought about the possibility that the fig would produce, but insufficiently.  After a while, he went down to his fields and told the vinekeeper: “Though I’m satisfied with the effort you made to get the fig tree to produce, the tree hasn’t produced enough fruit to justify its cost in grapes. Now, as you know, I take my promises seriously, and so I must cut the tree down.”  Pausing a moment, he continued, “And because you haven’t made the tree pay its way, you must leave my fields—to work in a friend’s vineyard in Syria.”

Before the vinekeeper could thank the owner for his mercy, the goatherd, who had been standing there listening, cried out in dismay.  She said, “Wait! If I can feed my flock on the goat-figs, I bet my father will sell you wineskins for almost nothing!” And so the matter was settled. The vinekeeper remained at the vineyard, and, under his care, the fig tree produced a great harvest the next year.


Copyright © 2012, Eric Quinn.


Etching: Parable of the Barren Fig Tree; Jan Luyken; WikiCmns; Public Domain; photo taken by Harry Kossuth; author: Phillip Medhurst.

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