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The Beauty of a Tree
The 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
The oldest tree in the United States is Pando, a giant colony of Quaking Aspens in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. These trees are part of a common organism, an underlying rhizoidal stem system that absorbs nutrients and provides strength. They continue to grow and spread in every which way. Some estimate the “tree” is about 80,000 years old!
In the gospel for today (Luke 6:39-45) Jesus shares a moral tale with his listeners. His message draws upon words related to trees (“wooden beams” and “splinters”) to teach a lesson that is relevant for us today. We should look at our own behavior — the beams or splinters in our eyes — before criticizing or admonishing someone else about their actions.
Scripture scholar Brendan Byrne commented: “relations between human beings based on retribution, or even on strict justice, fail to take account of … what is really going on inside another person.” Byrne continued, “the image of the tree and its yield of fruit illustrates the continuity that must prevail between the heart … and external action.” Faith without good works is not a good strategy on the world stage today.
As the parable continues Jesus uses trees metaphorically to describe who is an exemplary person. Good trees do not bear bad fruit and they are known by the fruit they produce. Further, trees planted in the house of God will bring forth fruit even as they grow old. They shall remain vigorous and sturdy. (Psalm 92:2-3,13-16) That’s good news for some of us!
We cannot overlook that Jesus also strongly condemned demonic persons who thrive in producing evil, stealing liberty from innocent people. The invasion of Ukraine made by Vladimer Putin is the latest example of crimes against humanity caused by a malicious power hungry autocrat.
If such evil is uncontested it will affect global economic systems and diminish the livelihoods of people especially those already living in poverty. It will harm and destroy millions of lives.
Why focus on trees in this moment of history? In mythology, literature, and poetry, trees represent life and growth. In his lyric poem “Trees” Joyce Kilmer suggests nothing created by humans can match the beauty of a tree. According to his biographer James Hart, Kilmer was influenced by his faith and dedication to the “natural beauty of the world.” 
The cedar trees are mentioned frequently in the Bible most likely because they were strong and indestructible (Isaiah 9:10). They also provided comfort, fruit and beauty. There is something about the grandeur of nature that inspires and gives hope. Mindful of its measureless wonder we realize the divine creative process is not finished. What is the significance of trees in our environmental and religious lives today?
First of all we have a responsibility to protect them and the entire eco-system we rely on for sustenance. The great Pando grove in Utah is endangered because of human activity. The tall and sturdy cedar trees of Lebanon, signs of that country’s historical resilience, are also in danger because of pollution. The same is true in other countries that allow the industrial raping of the land.
The word Pando, the name of that oldest grove of trees in Utah, means “I spread” in Latin. Like the Pando grove of the Aspen clones that keep extending their reach, churches like ours need to reproduce, to spread our roots, to grow fruit that will “glisten in the world.” (Philippians 2:15d, 16a)
A religion that is rooted in relationships will focus on the needs of its members. It will share leadership and decision making tasks. It will be nourished by memory and imagination. And, like the Pando tree, it will spread beyond traditional boundaries in unlimited directions.
Christianity is one of the older religions in the world. We are not often toppled by storms. Nor are we easily uprooted by industrial or political ambitions. Our lives are grounded in the Christian gospel. Our roots spread deep into the earth giving us a solid footing in society. We are known by the fruit we bear.
Our work is challenging. The world needs religious and spiritual people to work with those whose source of strength is found elsewhere. The task is to spread power and wealth so all people can lead stable productive lives. We move forward and upward so others can benefit by our good deeds expressed simply by the beauty of a tree.
1. Hartley, Marsden. "Tribute to Joyce Kilmer" in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (December 1918), 149–154.
2/28/2022 09:53:04 am
Dear Father Vasko,
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