Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Allegory of the Olive Trees

Over the past few days, I have been reading the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, and had some thoughts related to it. Since you like to hear what I am thinking about, I have decided to share. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read it here. If you don't feel like reading it all, it's basically an allegory about a man who owns a vineyard full of olive trees, and it's the story of how he takes care of his trees so they will produce good fruit for him. There are at least two ways to apply the story: first, it is a symbol of the Jews and Gentiles, and the scattering and gathering of Israel; second, it is a symbol of how God works in our lives individually. I haven't thought much about the latter before now, but when I read it this time, I learned a lot.

First I decided to note wherever the master of the vineyard said anything. This was interesting, because it turns out that most of the allegory is actually given through the words of the master himself.

Then I noticed a few other things.

After much effort to help the tree grow good fruit (as opposed to wild fruit), the master of the vineyard asks his servant, What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self? Did he ask because he didn't know what to do, or did he ask because he wanted to see how much his servant had learned in the process of helping him care for the trees? I think it is the latter. This is often the way earthly parents, heavenly parents, and mentors work in my life; they ask me to come up with solutions to problems they may already know how to solve, so that I can learn to make complex decisions like they do, gain confidence in what I know, and eventually feel comfortable moving forward on my own.

In this same phrase, there is another interesting use of words: what shall we do? Not what are you going to do?, but an invitation to work with the master in carrying out his stewardship. We never work alone when we are asked to join our leaders in the work they do, and when we accept the invitation, we receive the added benefit of the mentoring process we just discussed above. (As a tangential thought, this is an important principle to apply in management. I am of the opinion that cultivating trusting relationships and mentoring toward a specific goal are two actions that make a manager successful, because they make the employee successful.)

We can see the servant's growth and development a little later in the story, when the master of the vineyard is ready to give up and just cut the whole tree down, and the servant gives the most beautiful response: Spare it a little longer. I love this. It is full of mercy and compassion and love. It reminds me of my Savior. The servant saw the tree, in all its wildness, and realized that the roots were still good; they had just been overtaken by the wild branches that had been grafted in. He didn't want to give up on that potential goodness. In the same way, Jesus sees me as what I can become, despite what fruits I am currently bearing. He gently and carefully draws out the good from my roots by doing exactly what the master of this vineyard did: a little at a time, he cut off the most corrupt branches, and replaced them with the original branches that he had previously grafted into other trees. As the original branches were restored, they took strength from their original roots, and more bad branches could be removed. The result was that the good roots gradually completely permeated the tree with goodness, and it bore only good fruit.

Jesus sees us in our entirety - roots, trunk, and branches. He sees us as we were, as we are, and as we can become. And gently, carefully, a little at a time, He helps rid us of our corrupt and sinful ways, replacing them with better alternatives. This is the effect of His great Atonement. It is significant to note that He doesn't try to cut out all the bad at once, because that could overwhelm us, potentially damaging us beyond repair. Instead, He takes time and care to help us through the process of incremental change until we become someone who is "sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, ... holy, without spot." When I consider that this is the purpose of mortality, and that each of us is going through this same process of refining, it gives me more compassion for others and for myself.