I’m thinking about going all-medieval on my plum trees when winter finally rolls around this year, cutting branches and trunks like Sherman marching through Georgia. If memory serves me correctly, my two trees are almost fifteen years old at this point, and have yet to bear anything even remotely resembling what others would call substantial fruit. I’ll confess most of the blame can be laid at my feet—I do not tend to them in the manner I should. Especially if I really expect plum jelly or pies during tepid, early summer months when the trees were designed by their creator to provide said fruit. I’m supposed to spray the early spring buds with some sort of concoction the old-timers around here swear by. I’m supposed to prune them back in the fall, and mulch their bases with composted manure. Too much trouble, I say. Besides, other than grabbing and eating a plum off a tree while mowing or idly walking through the yard, I’m not much of a plum-eater when it comes right down to it.
Yet by the same token, I tend my roses in a manner that borders on the fanatical and all to no avail. If you want to see prize-winning tea-roses or beautiful floribundas; you need to look elsewhere and not on my corner of Johnson Hill. The green-thumb does not reside in my genes, although it is not due to a portent lack of effort on my part.
I’ve witnessed those poor shrubs physically cringe when they see me coming, pruning shears and spray bottle in hand. Oh no! He’s back again, duck and cover! OK, maybe not that bad, but you get my drift. I dead-head my roses, I mulch and water them, I spray their leaves with expensive Neem oil in a thankless effort to fend off black spot and rust. In return, I’m rewarded with an occasional bloom from time to time, but nothing like the label advertised when I originally planted them. (I've kept the labels to identify them, and those faded, yellow pictures taunt my gardening-ego mercilessly when I garner the courage to view them!)
The other night I sat on the porch and listened to my roses taunting the plum trees, chiding them on how the gardner was going to chop them down for not producing. (I don’t know how they got wind of the plan I expressed here earlier, but they did…) The plum trees dripped moisture from their fruit-barren limbs in response; their silvery leaves shining sadly in the moonlight. The roses explained how the gardener tended them, pruning and painstakingly caring for them, all the while ignoring those nearby fruit trees due to their apparent lack of worth. The roses seethed in their arrogance, knowing how patiently the gardener sacrificed time and energy for their benefit, but not so much on the plum trees.
Those silly roses will neither understand nor comprehend it when the day comes (and it will) where I will grow weary of tending their unrepentant tendrils, and get out my shovel (or tractor) and destroy them all. Maybe I’ll plant lilies in their place—they seem to like our humid, blast-furnace-akin summers enough to thrive in those conditions, and certainly with a lot less hassle to boot.
But the plum trees really have to go, too. It’s in the cards. And it’s not without precedent:
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Luke 13:1-5
Jesus begins a parable by reminding his listeners of two recent tragedies listed among the current events of the time. One event happened when Pilate sent in the troops and wiped out a host of Galilean worshipers that were in the process of making their sacrifices in the Temple. Those supposedly-righteous Jews had been exterminated during the middle of a worship service! Meanwhile, in another part of the city, a tower fell and killed eighteen people near the Pool of Siloam, where the crippled outcasts gathered waiting for a miracle—the only possibility that could save them from their destitute lives. Jesus reminds his listeners that unless they repented, they were also going to perish despite their prominent standing in the community. At that point Jesus launches into the Parable of the Fig Tree, where a gardener pleads with the master for one more year to work with a barren fig tree before chopping it down.
It’s a reminder to me that due to the spiritual blessings that have been bestowed upon me as a Christian, I must be careful. Walking with G_d on a daily basis leaves no room for perceived self-righteousness on my part: I must bear fruit. Except for His grace, I am no better than the addict down the road crippled by chemical dependency, or the vilest sinner that avoids church services at any cost. Unless we all repent, a harsh judgment awaits each of us in like manner.
Meanwhile, the Master Gardener continues to prune and mulch me. He dead-heads my blooms in order to make me flower even more so. He anoints my heart with expensive oil. In return, He expects good works, not to save me, but as a noticeable result of my being saved by His matchless grace in the first place. He expects me to bear fruit, and if not, then he will trim me, cutting deeper into my soul with his Word, while chastening me with His Spirit. But in the end I must bear fruit. (Galatians 5:22-23) You see, it’s required of me to do so.
It’s a sobering thought to know that when I smugly point my self-righteous fingers at others, I better be very aware of what I am doing in my own life.
Plum pudding, anyone?