Thirsty Trees or Bickering Children? – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm; Matthew 11:15-19

This morning I’d like to propose as objects for our meditation the towering sycamore trees planted along Memorial Drive just outside our monastery.  Sycamores are thirsty trees and thrive in wetlands or near rivers or streams.  Their roots sink deep into the ground, soaking up nourishment and providing stability for their hefty trunks and branches, which often grow to 130 feet or more in height.

I suggest them as objects for our meditation because of the psalmist’s choice of “trees planted by streams of water” as a metaphor for those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord.”  Happy are those, he suggests, who sink their roots deep into the nourishing soil of the law of the Lord and establish themselves firmly on its precepts.  “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.  In all that they do, they prosper.”  It’s a fitting metaphor, and invites us to consider what it means to root our lives in the truth of God and to draw our nourishment from God’s commands.  What difference might it make in our lives if we imagined ourselves as huge thirsty sycamores, sending our roots deep into the rich soil, standing stable and strong in the face of life’s storms?  What might help us grow into such solid and steady trees?  “Like trees planted by streams of water”: strong, flourishing, bearing fruit, and prospering.

How unlike the people Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel lesson.  “To what will I compare this generation?” he asks.  Certainly not to “trees planted by streams of water,” drawing their daily sustenance from God’s law and finding their strength in God.  Instead, they are like bickering children who cannot play together, who are unresponsive to God’s call and unable or unwilling to hear the good news.  “This generation,” Jesus points out, has written off the call to repentance issued by John, turning away from him because he abstained from normal patterns of social intercourse, and refused to eat and drink as others did.  They ‘played the flute’ and John ‘did not dance.’  But they have also turned away from Jesus’ message, his invitation to share in the joyful arrival of the kingdom, complaining that he ate and drank with sinners.  When they ‘wailed’ Jesus ‘did not mourn.’  Instead he proved himself ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ and, in their eyes, ‘a glutton and a drunkard.’

Because their hearts are not open to the message God is sending them, the people of Jesus’ generation turn away by finding fault in the messengers.

I wonder what Jesus might say about our ‘generation’? Is John’s call to repentance or Jesus’ good news of the kingdom any more compelling to our generation that it was to the people of Jesus’ time?  Are we open and hungering for this good news, or are we largely indifferent?  Looking at our world, would Jesus see trees planted by streams of water, hungering and thirsting for God, or would he see bickering children, turning away from the very words that bring life.

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  1. Ruth West on August 28, 2018 at 14:51

    Br. David, this sermon embodies a great metaphor, so clear in its message. Here in “tornado alley” we often see trees uprooted during storms. The ones which have roots planted deep in the soil are most likely to withstand the turbulent winds. I pray that my roots go deep as those sycamores, fastened securely to my Lord’s commandments, especially the first and greatest one of loving Him and my neighbor. Thanks for this good homily.

  2. Dr. Nena Amuzie on August 28, 2018 at 14:30

    Jesus will probably still see us as He saw the children of His generation, only louder because of our technology , but with the same basic needs to be rescued from our selfishness and sin and to be transformed into becoming our brother’s keepers. ” The righteous gentile or jew or at best, the non-racist good Samaritan”.

  3. Elizabeth Hardy on August 28, 2018 at 08:59

    This gives me a different insight on John. I think about times Christians are ignored or ridiculed because they don’t join in with some of what others would call “social norms” – excessive drinking, gossip, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. When others turn away from a message of tolerance, inclusiveness, generosity, invitation to the stranger in our midst, we need to sink our roots a little deeper.

  4. SusanMarie on August 28, 2018 at 06:21

    This image of the sycamore trees with their deep roots will definitely be my meditation today and in the coming days, weeks, months…

    Indeed, what difference might it make in my life if I imagined myself as a huge thirsty sycamore, sending my roots deep into the rich soil, standing stable and strong in the face of life’s storms? What might help me grow into such solid and steady trees?

    As I am faced with the “storm” of one of my adult children living with mental illness and perhaps becoming homeless and/or ending his own life at some point, I am indeed thirsty and need deep, strong roots to stand stable and strong in union with Jesus with faith, hope, love, and compassion.

    Thank you for the beautiful image.

    • Rhode on August 28, 2018 at 10:01

      – And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you [and your child] may be filled with all the fullness of God…Eph. 3:18,19
      Peace SusanMarie and know your message touched a heart – I will pray for you and your child..

      • SusanMarie on August 28, 2018 at 10:43

        My deepest thanks and God’s blessings to you, Rhode.

  5. Don Hamer on November 7, 2014 at 22:42

    Brother David, thank you for this meditation on November 7, 2014. I always love looking at those sycamores as I look out the window of my room across at the river, and I will look at them — and myself — differently now. Your brother in Christ, Don

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