In the fall, my family planted four heirloom apple trees in front of our house. Rather than purchasing full-sized trees, we opted for rootstock, which amounts to little more than a set of solid plant roots and a three-foot-tall “tree trunk” that is no more than an inch in diameter. From a distance, it looks like we’ve simply stuck four tree branches in the ground. But when we stand close to the trees, we can see small branches with little leaves emerging. These trees are an investment in the future, and it will take time for them to reach full size and begin bearing fruit.
The same can be said of our young disciples (or really disciples of any age.) While it may appear that God isn’t active in our lives because we’re not “bearing fruit,” the truth is that God is always with us, even if we cannot see God’s presence. In this lesson, children will explore Jesus’ parable of the fig tree and will consider the ways their faith continues to grow slowly but surely.
Begin your time with the children by showing them this time-lapse video of a mango tree growing. Note that the video captures one year in the life of the tree. After the video, ask the children what they noticed about the plant. How much had it grown in one year? Did it produce fruit? Share that while the tree grew quite a bit in one year, no mangoes appeared on it at the end of the year. It would take an additional four to seven years for this tree to produce any fruit. Ask the children to keep these ideas in mind as they hear today’s scripture reading.
Prepare to read aloud Luke 13:6-9. (Note: The lectionary gospel reading for this week actually spans verses 1-9. To help the children focus on the message presented in the parable of the fig tree, this lesson includes only this portion of the reading.) Tell the children that Jesus often used stories to teach people during his ministry on earth. These stories were about things that people in that time knew quite a bit about. But they also included messages about faith. These stories are called parables. Today we’re going to hear one of these parables. In it, Jesus talks about a gardener growing a fig tree. We’ll look at it together to see what it might also be saying about our faith in God.
Exploring the passage
Read aloud Luke 13:6-9. After reading, ask the children to recount the story. How did the man who planted the fig tree react when he saw his fig tree didn’t have any fruit on it? What did the gardener say in response? Based on what we learned in the video about the mango tree, is it reasonable for the man to expect his fig tree to grow fruit in only three years?
Explain to the children that the story isn’t entirely about a fig tree and two people. Jesus is using this story to talk about how our faith grows. Our faith is like the fig tree. It needs time to grow. It may be a while before we understand what we believe, are able to say exactly what we believe, or act as Jesus did. Just like a tree keeps growing even when it isn’t producing fruit, God continues to be with us and is active in our lives, even if we don’t realize it. All throughout our lives our faith continues to grow and change. At different points in our lives, we have moments when we “bear fruit.” Faith takes time to grow. We need to be patient with ourselves and others!
Relating the passage to our lives
To help children connect the story to their own lives, guide them through this art activity. Before the activity, prepare the materials they’ll need: crayons or markers, scissors, and glue sticks. Also, you’ll want to print out one tree template per child and cut several paper leaves or fruits out for each child to place on her tree. Here’s a tree template you can use. Or you can choose to make your own. Be sure that your tree template has several branches on it. For leaves, you can use this template and for fruit, you can use this template
Hand out the tree templates so each child has one. Tell the children that these trees represent them. Like the trees, their bodies, minds, and faith grow over time. Ask each child to color his tree so that it represents his interests. He might choose colors he likes or decorate it with images. Be sure the children only decorate the tree trunk and branches. They’ll be adding fruit or leaves later.
After coloring their trees, give each child several leaves or fruit. Explain that these represent moments in their lives when they showed their faith or they learned something new about their relationship to God. These moments could be their baptisms, times they have celebrated the Lord’s Supper or when they joined a church. They could also be moments when they put their faith into action by being Jesus’ hands and feet on earth. Give the children time to draw or write each of these moments on their fruit/leaves.
When the children have filled in their fruits/leaves, ask them to cut the images out and glue them onto their trees. If you’re working with young children or have limited time for the activity, you may want to cut out the fruits/leaves ahead of time, so the children only need to glue them on the trees.
Conclude your time together by offering a prayer of thanksgiving for the moments when we have learned about or have shown our faith and a prayer of intercession for God to continue to be with us throughout our lives.