Talking with Trees
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. – Mark 11:12-14 (NIV)
The stories where Jesus is in “spiritual growth mode”—e.g. those in which he is hangry, petty or downright ragey—are some of my faves. I can relate.
Except for this one. Who yells at a fig tree for not providing fruit? Especially when figs are not even in season? Jesus, get a grip. You should be hugging trees, not verbally abusing them.
Then again, even in his fit of pique, Jesus is teaching us. The messiah is talking to a tree as if it were a person. He calls it a “you.” This is a revelation!
In I and Thou, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber picks up where Jesus leaves off. He invites us to a different kind of encounter with all created things. People, trees, even the park bench we sit on to watch a tree: none of them are “Its” to be used or exploited, however gently. Every one is a Thou standing in for God. “All real living is meeting,” Buber says.
Go be Jesus today—or ever better, Buber. Wander out of the walls that hem you in and walk around in the world. Talk back to the crows, murmur against the mosquitos, and hold forth with the trees (after a hug or two). Listen as much as you talk. Let them bless you, even if you’re in a cursing mood.
God, thank you for making me, and thank you for making trees. Now get us talking. Amen.
Rev. Molly Baskette is the lead pastor of First Church Berkeley UCC and the author of a number of books about church renewal, parenting, spiritual growth and more. For her author newsletter and book information, visit mollybaskette.com.