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June 17, 2012
Today’s readings:
Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:2-3,13-14,15-16
Mark 4:26-34

I love trees, especially really big ones. Put me in a forest and leave me there the whole day. I will just stare at and study the trees, climb the big ones, and reflect on God’s work. Some of my favorites are the banyan (balete) and the cedar.

I really like the way the banyan grows, with its aerial prop roots that reach into the ground and then grow into thick woody trunks themselves. Thus an old banyan will spread out laterally to cover a wide area. The biggest I have seen is one in Vanuatu, the various trunks of which formed a somewhat circle with a diameter of about 30 meters! According to Wikipedia, one banyan tree called Doda Alada Mara is found in the outskirts of Bangalore, India, and has a spread of around 3 acres! (I’m adding that to my Bucket List). I would not mind making my home on a banyan tree, like Robinson Crusoe (that goes into my Bucket List as well).

The other great tree is the cedar of Lebanon. What a majestic tree. What beauty, especially when blanketed by snow. The cedar figures prominently in the Old Testament. In November of 1986, when the civil war was still ongoing in Lebanon, I went there on mission. Flights were prohibited and we had to go in by boat from Larnaca, Cyprus. One big bonus was seeing the show-draped cedars on the very mountains of Lebanon.

Loving the cedar of Lebanon so much, later I asked for two cut branches which I planted in Antipolo. Unfortunately both perished in a few months. Maybe I should have taken “from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost heights tear off a tender shoot” (Ez 17:22a), and planted “it on a high and lofty mountain” (Ez 17:22b). Alpadi it seems is not high or lofty enough.

Anyway, on this important day of Father’s Day, I am happy that the readings are about trees. God created trees from the very beginning. In paradise, “the Lord God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at” (Gen 2:9a).

God is able to accomplish whatever He wants with trees. He can “bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom.” (Ez 17:24b). God does the same with us, to suit His purposes. If we are too high and puffed up, He deflates us and brings us down, for our own good. If we are lowly and count for nothing, He delights in using us, thus confounding the world (1 Cor 1:27-28). God can in an instant turn our lives topsy-turvy. Making the green tree wither and the withered tree bloom, God can throw down the rulers and lift up the lowly, and He can fill the hungry but send the rich away empty (Lk 1:52-53).

What does God look for in His people? Like the cross, which is a symbol of our faith, there are the vertical and the horizontal aspects. There is the relationship with God and the relationship with people. We are to love God and we are to love our neighbor. In our relationship with God, we are a people who are “planted in the house of the Lord” (Ps 92:14a). We are a faithful people who live our covenant. If we do this, we “shall flourish in the courts of our God.” (Ps 92:14b).

In our relationship with others, we are to be just. Justice is giving to others what is their due. We live not only for ourselves, but to serve others and to help ensure that they enjoy what God has intended for them -- respect as children of God, an equitable share of the world’s goods provided by God, justice especially to those who have less stature in society. If we do this, then we as “the just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Ps 92:13).

Now one of the most important things we owe other people is the proclamation of the gospel. As every disciple of Jesus is, we are given the Great Commission to go and proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus to everyone and to the whole world. Conversion and growth to maturity is God’s work, but we as human instruments have been tasked to help plant the seed, as “it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land” (Mk 4:26b).

Being God’s work, “the seed would sprout and grow, (we) know not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” (Mk 4:27b-28). While God causes the growth, we need to assist with the planting and the watering (1 Cor 3:6). While salvation is God’s divine work, we assist by proclaiming this good news and helping people to live out a new life in Christ.

So “this is how it is with the kingdom of God” (Mk 4:26a). And I am delighted that Jesus then compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed (Mk 4:31). “But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches” (Mk 4:32a). Matthew says “it becomes a large bush” (Mt 13:32b). Other translations say it “becomes a tree” (RSV). It becomes so large “that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk 4:32b).

As we then celebrate Father’s Day, and I rejoice in being greeted by my blood children and spiritual children, I also realize that the blessings of covenant often refer to the blessings on our children’s children. At least three generations are involved. Fathers are not only blessed because they have raised up their children well, but they are blessed as grandfathers because their children in turn have taken up their way of life, and thus have raised their own children also well. The faith is being passed along.

I thus take comfort in the reality that grandfathers such as me “shall bear fruit even in old age” (Ps 92:15a). We may not be “always vigorous and sturdy” (Ps 92:15b), but we are still able to serve and please God.

I love trees, whether banyan or cedar or mustard, but I love God, who made the trees, even more. We can learn a lot from trees -- whether God’s provision, or the beauty of His creation, or the very Kingdom of God, or our work in the Kingdom. “And all the trees of the field shall know that (God is) the Lord” (Ez 17:24a). May the world follow their lead. Hopefully, through the work of fathers, and their families, all the nations of the earth will know that Jesus is Savior and Lord.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning, your faithfulness in the night” (Ps 92:2-3)

On second thought, leave me in the forest for a whole week.

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