Monday, March 4, 2013

The Tree That Forgot Its Name

This parable is my weak attempt to make sense of Luke 13.6-9 (the parable of the fig tree that bore no fruit).

Long ago, there was a lone tree in the orchard.  It was very old and very tall.  Its branches were gnarled and its bark dark and weird looking.  The other trees gave it wide berth.  They were afraid of this tree, for it had been many years since it had born fruit – so many years, in fact, that neither it nor its fellow trees could even remember what kind of tree it was, for as everyone knows, trees are named for their fruit.

The tree was so great in size that its lowest branches could not be reached by even the tallest man or even the tallest man standing on the shoulders of the tallest man.  And so the tree, a little proud, it must be said, of its longevity and its great size, had stopped thinking long ago about fruit.  The tree hadn’t ever decided to stop being fruitful; it just forgot that it could.  It was a very tired tree and the work of being a tree just seemed too hard.

So when the sun shone, it seldom lifted its branches or turned its few leaves to the life-giving warmth.

When the rains came, it sipped from the surface, but didn’t bother to send its roots deep for the thirst-quenching drink it needed to badly.  It had been so long, in fact, that the tree forgot that it was even thirsty.

The tree didn’t know it, but it was slowly starving itself to death.

And its roots were so close to the surface that a slight wind would have toppled it easily.  If anyone tried to point that out to the tree, it just said oh well.

One day a master gardener came to tell the owner of the orchard what to do with all his trees.  When it came to the great tree in the middle, the owner wanted to cut it down to make room for more, for better, trees.  But the gardener said, “Give me a year and let’s see what I can do with her.”  The owner agreed.

So the gardener went and got a very tall ladder and some pruning shears.  But the first thing he did was soak the ground around the tree with water – so much water that the tree had to drink.  Then he mixed in some good soil and built up a mound around the tree; and the tree ate from the good dirt.  The tree felt better than she had in years.  She even lifted a branch or two towards the sun.  But the gardener knew he had more work to do and so he climbed the ladder with his shears and began to cut back the many dead and dying branches on the tree.  The tree did not like this one little bit: it hurt – a lot.  Every branch cut away caused her to shout out in pain.  But the gardener kept cutting and cutting and cutting.  By the time he was done, Tree looked like a little school boy with a bad haircut.

Fall and winter passed and finally, spring came again.  And a funny thing happened: leaves burst out from Tree’s trunk and from the few branches that gardener had left.

Tree didn’t decide to have new leaves.  They just came.  Because when a tree has water and good soil and good sun, leaves and branches grow.  It just happens, because that’s how Creator made it to happen.

And it didn’t happen right away, but Tree did finally bear fruit again – and no one in the orchard was more surprised than her when it happened.  One day there was a wind and with the wind, things began to drop from the tree – hard things – so hard that on their way down to the ground, they sometimes hit the other trees who shouted out hey!

The hard things that fell to the ground were mostly eaten by squirrels and deer and the other critters who lived in or visited the orchard.  But some of the hard things weren’t eaten.  Some of them buried themselves into the ground and then, when the sun and the rains came, they sprouted into (can you guess?) . . . little oak trees.

When Tree looked down and saw them, she was very pleased to have some company, for she had been alone for a very long time.  The first one she saw, in fact, made her cry, for she had forgotten what it was not to be alone in the orchard.

That was a very good day indeed, the day Tree again bore fruit and again knew itself to be oak.


  1. I love that analogy! Very introspective and true. All we need inlife is love and someone to care for us and someone to care for. It is up to us to allow others to do that for us:)

    1. So true - and I continue to wonder why that is so often hard for us - especially the allowing others to care for us part.

  2. Just read this in my daily devotionals. Love the story and is close to what I do with my plants. I threaten them that if they don't bloom next year, they are moved/removed from the garden. Usually that works.

  3. I really like this. It made me think about things I had not thought about in the context of the text that comes before it- and where I am in my journey of Lent. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Melissa, glad it spoke to you - been wrestling with all the darn fig trees for way too long!