On a bright, warm Spring morning under a cloudless blue sky with the scent of blossom in the air this bench will be a delightful place to sit and take in the view across the valley. Not today. Today the temperature is sub-zero and the seat is covered in snow. Far better to be well wrapped up and to keep moving in order to stay warm than to sit, get a damp backside and freeze.
What matters is the imagination to see this scene as it can and will be when Springtime comes. And the patience to wait and return when the time is right. Perhaps it is along such lines as these that biblical wisdom asserts “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” The key is to know whether the time has past or is yet to come. Are we looking at faded glory or incipient birth? How likely is delight, how inevitable dereliction? Jesus tells a story which plays with this conundrum:
A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down (Luke 13:6-9)
The derelict Clarence Flour Mill on the banks of the River Hull is likely to be demolished and reduced to rubble. Its days of being fruitful are long gone and it seems that it has no future. Once it was a world beating production facility and was at the heart of the business empire built up by Joseph Rank. Badly damaged by the Luftwaffe during a raid on Hull it was rebuilt after the war. Traces of its Victorian heritage are still evident in the photographs, which convey a strong sense of both history and decay. In its heyday it was bustling with life and filled with noise. Today all is quiet and still in its gloomy interior. Now it is merely “wasting the soil” as the parable puts it.
Wisdom is much needed when it comes to knowing the right point at which to stop trying to turn a situation around and accept that the end has been reached. No wonder Jesus told a parable rather than dictating a rule. Such decisions are seldom easy as everything has its seasons and its cycles and its vested interests. Add in to the mix the fact that Christians are called to be brimming with hopeful imagination, and delight or dereliction can be a tough call to make.
And today’s church needs all the wisdom it can muster as we work out for ourselves the implications of Jesus’ deceptively simple little story. A bench in the warm sunshine of a delightful Spring day, or a dingy, derelict ruin that is a waste of space; which is it to be?