Like A Green Olive Tree
June 16, 2002
Why do you boast, O mighty one,
Of mischief done against the kindness of God?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
You worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
And lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
But God will break you down forever;
He will snatch and tear you from your tent;
He will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see, and fear,
And will laugh at him, saying,
"See the one who would not take refuge in God,
But trusted in abundant riches,
And sought refuge in his destruction!"
But I am like a green olive tree
In the house of my God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
Forever and ever.
I will thank you forever
Because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will wait upon your name, for it is good.
Psalm fifty-two contains a beautiful image of spiritual life. The Psalmist says, "I am like a green olive tree in the house of my God." This image captured my attention right away. As soon as I read it, I knew I had found the title and theme for what I wanted to share with you today.
Still, I wasn't sure exactly why a tree, as an image of our spiritual life, should seem so right. Perhaps it is because this is the summertime, the growing season, and we find ourselves surrounded by so much beautiful greenery. Perhaps, too, it is because it seems to fit in so well with our church calendar. We are in the season after Pentecost, which lasts until Advent; and it is a time for reflecting upon our spiritual life and growth and that of our church. Each church season is traditionally represented by a color, and the color for this present season is--yes, green! So this is a very green time of year in the natural world, and spiritually too.
But why an olive tree? The Psalmist could have chosen something grander, like the famous cedars of Lebanon, whose timber was used to build the first temple in Jerusalem. Or more important, like the wheat the people grew for their daily bread. Or more beautiful, like the lilies of the field that our Lord spoke of.
What is so special about an olive tree? Well, I did a little research. My information comes from a wonderful book that my wife Cathy passed along to me: Much Depends On Dinner, by Margaret Visser. It is all about the history and culture associated with different foods. There is a chapter in it on olive oil, olives and, of course, the olive tree.
I learned a lot; and especially, I learned that these trees are very durable. Individual trees can live for centuries, often in the most barren, rocky, and dry places. And though the method of harvesting the olives in ancient times was rather violent--the poor tree would be beaten about with sticks to knock the fruit down--it would still survive and bear new fruit, year after year, century after century. In fact, despite arid landscape, fierce heat, and human battering, the olive tree would remain ever-green the year round, giving shade to hot and weary passers-by.
How does the olive tree do this? Its strength lies in the part that you don't see, namely, the roots. The tree sends its roots deep, deep down into the earth to find springs of fresh water. So deep and strong do these roots become that even if the tree is cut down or burned, the roots will survive and send forth new shoots to create new generations of trees. It is thought that the eight olive trees that grow today on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem come from the same root system that existed when Jesus prayed there two thousand years ago.
From all this it is easy to see that in Biblical times the olive tree was seen as a symbol of life itself--life in its constancy, its regenerative power, and its eternal aspect. But that's not all. The fruit of the tree--from which, by much human effort and skill, olive oil is derived--was so prized in the ancient world that it came to signify human creativity and wisdom.
Now let's return to the Psalm and what it means that we are to be "like a green olive tree in the house of God." I think it means that, like the roots of the olive tree, we need to reach deep down inside ourselves to find the true source that nourishes our life. We need to seek beyond the surface of our lives, past the confusion of our own wants and concerns--what the Psalmist calls trusting in riches and wealth. We need to step back for a moment from our everyday busyness and routines, and seek the life-giving presence of God at the center of our selves.
For it is here, in our hearts, in the presence of God, that we can know that each of us is specially loved. This love, like fresh water, can wash away the dust and staleness of our lives, the cynicism and indifference, those feelings of emptiness and despair. It can renew us with a sense of wonder and possibility. We can begin to respond in new ways to the Lord's call for us to share this love with others in the world so that the fruits of our lives, like those of the olive tree, may be beneficial and wise.
However old in years we may grow to be, our life's journey with the Lord will keep our spirits fresh and green so that at last, as children, we may come to his kingdom. Amen.
Dear Lord, you have planted us, like olive trees, in your spiritual orchard, on the mountainside where you visit with us to show us the way of life. Give us the will to send our roots deep into the inner recesses of our souls, where we may find life-giving springs of truth to satisfy our inner thirst and wash away the dust and staleness of our lives. Send your spiritual insights coursing into the roots of our being, and out into our lives, so that we may stay fresh and green, bearing fruits of kindness to all around us. Amen.
Rev. John Maine