Friday, February 01, 2008

Friday in the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Tale of Two Trees

Readings: 2 Samuel 1:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6a, 6bcd-7, 10-11; Mark 4:26-34

Some might recall that not too many days ago we had occasion to reflect upon the similarities between a vibrant spiritual life and a thriving tree. Our readings today invite reflection along the same lines by presenting for our attention not one but two distinct species of tree. In particular, it will be helpful for us to consider their similarities and differences.

One tree is found in the gospel. Here, in Jesus’ parables, we find the tree that is the Kingdom of God. Among the characteristics of this tree, Jesus is careful to highlight its amazing power of growth. Like the seed that is scattered indiscriminately, the Kingdom grows secretly, of its own accord. Its power to germinate is innate. It only requires the right soil. And when it does find favorable conditions it’s capable of phenomenal growth. What starts out as the smallest of all seeds becomes the largest of plants. Finally, we find what is perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of this tree. When fully grown, it provides a dwelling for the birds of the sky. It is, after all, the Tree of Life.

The other type of tree is found in the first reading. Like the first tree, it too is capable of growth. But its growth is of a far more sinister kind. What begins as a casual attraction to a beautiful woman escalates into adultery, and then deception, and finally murder. Perhaps what’s most striking about this insidious progression are the terrible demands it makes upon the one involved. Unlike the natural growth of the Tree of Life, this second tree grows only at the expense of the one who tends it. Like the strange plant in the Little Shop of Horrors, it feeds upon the life-blood of those around it. And once it’s fully grown, it bears fruit in alienation and destruction. It’s no surprise then that it should be called the tree of death.

Faced with these two specimens, what more is there for us to do today, than to consider carefully the kinds of trees that we may be cultivating, knowingly or unknowingly, in the gardens of our own lives?

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