When God creates all things good for human beings, a specific tree is mentioned: the Tree of Life (Gen 2. 9). It is put in the middle of the Garden of Eden: this garden planted by God (Gen 2. 8).
At the pivot point in the history of humanity is the Tree of the Cross, the life-giving tree.
History comes to an end as the Tree of Life is again mentioned. At the very end of time, it flourishes, perhaps as a group of trees, on both sides of the River of the Water of Life which flows from the Throne of God (Rev 22. 1 – 3). This is in the Holy City of the New Creation.
All through the Bible there is mention of trees and they are often used in familiar stories and events, in poetry and prophesy. They play a part in the story of redemption. In this set of reflections various aspects of trees (some admittedly fairly tenuous) will be examined. Hopefully this will lead to further thought or investigation on the part of the reader.
In general a chronological or historical approach will be used but some freedom and flexibility may also be applied if deemed appropriate or expedient.
This theme has been chosen to take us through the Trinity season because the liturgical colour for this season is green, evoking thoughts of new life, flourishing and hope.
A Great Tree
‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God’ [Mark 4. 11]
In all three synoptic Gospels Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed as part of a group of parables connected with seeds and farming. He likens the mustard seed and its growth to the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13. 31 – 32), the Kingdom of God (Mark 4. 30 – 32, Luke 13. 18 – 19). From small beginnings the Kingdom will grow and flourish, giving refuge to many. It is an exaggeration to say that this plant is the ‘greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree’ [Mat 13. 32] but Jesus uses hyperbole to get the attention of his listeners and to make a point. The phrase “small as a mustard seed” was in common use [Luke, Evans, SCM, 1990, p 553].
The picture of birds perching in its branches suggests links with a prophecy in Daniel [Dan 4]. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which Daniel interprets. It involves a great tree [Dan 4. 20 – 22]. Daniel explains that the tree represents Nebuchadnezzar as a ruler of many nations. The tree will be demolished. This is to demonstrate to Nebuchadnezzar that it is God who is sovereign over all. Nebuchadnezzar listens to Daniel. He changes his attitude, rules more wisely and moderately, blesses God and acknowledges God as the ‘King of heaven’ [Dan 4. 37]. Nebuchadnezzar is then restored to a position of power.
The growth of the mustard seed can also be seen as the way faith can grow and become strong. Exaggeration is again used by Jesus as he describes the power of faith. Even if it is a small as a mustard seed, a mountain can be moved [Mat 17. 20] and faith will make it possible to uproot a huge tree with deep roots and throw it into the sea [Luke 17. 6].
May your kingdom come, O God,
with deliverance for the needy,
with peace for the righteous,
with overflowing blessing for all nations,
with glory, honour and praise
for Christ, the only Saviour. Amen.