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)
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.