The ax at the root

To say that I had a complicated relationship with my mother would be an understatement. She had a way of saying things – to me only, as far as I know – that left me feeling I could never be adequate to please her. I used to think that as her adopted child I was somehow alien, did not exhibit traits she saw as typical for her family, but as I have aged I conclude that people often feel this way about their biological children, too.

In a rather striking use of metaphor, she told me in my 20s that I still needed pruning. She was a gardener, and she knew the good it might do to cut off a branch.

“The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.” (John the Baptist in Luke 3:9, CEB – full passage here)

Yikes.

A tree that wouldn’t die

Although the pruning comment hurt – she said nothing to soften it – having learned about gardening from my mother, I know that some plants come back even when you chop them down. I know from visiting the Gulf Coast for several years after Hurricane Katrina how some trees that look dead can grow again. I know from having lost parts of my identity that God can bring new life even when we think everything that matters has been tossed into the fire.

I tend to look at this dire prediction as a misused metaphor on John’s part. We believe in a God who is making all things new. There may be things, attitudes, behaviors that need to go in order that we might bear good fruit, but like my mother, God is more likely to prune, I think, than get rid of us for good.

John knew only in part. (More to come later in the gospel.)

Great gardener, thank you for the patience you have shown with me, the grace you have given my sometimes inadequate crop of fruit, the love in abundance available in every season. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? Full schedule can be found here.

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3 thoughts on “The ax at the root

  1. Martha–I love the plant imagery and your interpretation of it. My comment relates to similar plant imagery and adoption.
    Three years ago, our son and daughter-in-law, who had been on a list to adopt a child for years, finally got “the call.” A mother in Texas was deciding to place her child, yet to be born, for adoption. When she delivered, our son and DIL drove to Texas. When they arrived, they went to the hospital, and the birth mother refused to allow them to see the newborn baby girl. So they waited, then the next day she agreed but allowed them only an hour. Then the following day, she agreed they could take the baby girl home. They had her for two hours, when the birth mother changed her mind (as was her right) and told them to bring the baby back.
    My son and DIL were crushed.
    About that time, which was in April, there was a flowering cherry tree blooming near where I live. I noticed on of the branches had been broken–still connected to the tree but with the branch cracked. Nevertheless, the bud swelled and the broken branch bloomed.
    I wrote a blog about it, titled “The Broken Branch,” and sent it to my son. He understood completely.
    Then a year later, they got another call–and the little girl who was born then is now their dear daughter, and our dear granddaughter.

    Liked by 1 person

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