His parable in Luke 13:6-9 certainly is. The owner of a vineyard was seeking fruit from his fig tree, but when he came to it he found none. He told the Gardener, “Three years I have sought fruit from this tree, and still I find none. Chop it down! Why should it use up the ground? The Gardener says, “Let it remain for a year, and I will dig deep and put in fertilizer. If it grows fruit then it is good; if not, then chop it down.” ~Luke 13:6-9. This parable Jesus told is alarming when you realize the tree is given to mean you.
The Vineyard owner does not merely like trees for decoration. He wants fruit, sustenance, profit, continuation. He does not want the earth gone to waste. Indeed the word in Greek for “use up the ground” gives the idea of taking all its usefulness so that it is wasted and useless afterwards: like a soiled tissue, or a an empty pizza box. Another important thing about the phrase “use up the ground” is that the ground is the word for Earth. In Hebrew and Greek the word for earth, ground, and dirt art synonymous. A possible rendering of Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew is “In the beginning, God created the [ground] and the [sky].” It is much less a rendering of a material planet here and now and an immaterial place somewhere far away where God’s throne is, as it is talking about the concrete and immaterial reality that makes up life today around the world. In the Old Testament this idea of Heaven and Earth is vital to understanding the whole story, and God’s plan for a new Heaven and Earth in both Testaments.
Jesus gives a a story about what life is worth and what is worth ending life for the sake of life. The Gardener and the Vineyard owner in this paragraph demonstrate the Justice and the Forbearance of God.
JUSTICE: says “This tree belongs to me and it is not doing what it is meant to do. It must be removed and extinguished because it is using up the good and making it bad!”
FORBEARANCE: says “This tree is worth investing in and waiting a little bit longer to see if it is fruitful, so that this good thing may produce more good. If however, after further investment and patience it does not improve, then we will know for sure that the problem is with the tree itself, not the soil or the owner. So then it will be right for it to be removed.
“Behold the Kindness and Severity of God.” ~Romans 11:22. God is true, and requires a good accounting; He is also loving and gives all he can. In the end, all glory goes to His name, and all creation be filled with the glory of His goodness.
That being said, I believe this parable is meant to draw our attention to the earth, the tangible concrete reality in which we live. “Why does it use up the ground?” is another way of asking, “Why does this even exist?” God has poured out his blessing on Humanity, and made a good world, and has charged mankind with the task of making making it good extremely! (See Genesis 1:28-31). This is part of what has been called the cultural mandate given to humanity. All humans are called to continue the growth of God’s good world.
Specifically for Christians, God has called us to be the salt of the earth to preserve it. We are to take the good and make more good of it in concrete tangible ways. As the Holy Spirit guides us, He breathes life into all the the dead and dying things and from them creates new things through which His life can nourish others. Believers must learn to be led by the Holy Spirit so they can be a part of this preservation of Life.
Specifically for Christians, God has in mind for us to invest and make good those things which will last unto eternity. This does not negate the need to accomplish physical restoration and healing of our concrete tangible reality. Jesus after all did not only preach about the life to come, nor value purely the souls of humankind, but also their physical needs he met and their infirmities he restored. All this he did with a view to the praise of His Father who expects a good harvest of Earth and Heaven before he makes all things new. So then, believers must not work for temporary ends of the kingdoms of men, but rather for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ which is filling the whole earth, starting in the hearts of men, and flowing out from them in all that they touch.
For all Humanity, we must learn to fear the God who made us, planted us, owns us, and seeks results from us. He is forbearing and kind, and He is also exact and just. His patience will come to an end, and He will act for the good of His beloved people and creation, and the sake of His name, so that all the world may give praise to the Lord, “for He is good, and his Love endures forever.”
I stood in a room of lilac walls with three doors. I opened the golden door on the right and the light inside was glowing red. The walls were red. The man inside the door shouted, “It is horrendous to kill an unborn baby, to rip it apart in the womb!”
I closed the door and walked over to the other golden door. I opened it up and inside it glowed blue. The woman inside cried out, “It is insupportable to deny a woman’s right to get an abortion, because what she does to her own body is her constitutional right!”
I closed the door and walked to the third door. This door was wood and white but smeared with dirt and green vines crept along the wall branching out around it. I moved slowly, silently toward it. I reached out my hand and opened the door.
Inside there was no light, but the vines were very green and thick trailing back into the black within. I crept forward and was instantly struck by how silent the place was– as if 1000 ears were listening and none dared to utter a peep to disturb what was being heard. I entered in further away from the lilac-walled room and my eyes began adjusting to the black. The walls were green, but by no paint, purely made up of the things living in this room. Where do they get their sunlight? I wondered. This room looked long-forgotten.
I stepped on a small, leafy sapling twig, which broke making a tiny keek. The effect rippled through the vines of the room and myself concurrently. Both shuddered, calamity filled my heart with ache, and the vines gently pulsed.
But then it returned to the quiet. Something was different. I knelt down to examine my offense. The little leaf was dangling. There was nothing I could do. I shed a tear from my eye which I dribbled with my finger down the stem. It seemed to accept my contrite offering with an unassuming nod.
I looked around the room again. The vine below me was as thick as a sledgehammer-head and ran along the ground to the far wall. And as I looked I saw that a shoot came off from it and increased in length, though much thinner. As I looked, it was clear where the thick vine stopped and where the thin vine began, and yet both were the same vine.
But the answer to the riddle in my heart was not to be found here. My eyes followed the thick vine back into a dark corner of the room. Then, for the first time since entering the room, I started to see traces of light through the thickly-packed growth of the vines clogging every wall. I stepped carefully, and with gentle hands pried close woven vines apart, until I could see: there was a window! And not merely a window but a corner of two glass walls! It had been growing so long that the inner part of the room was deprived of sunlight, but it was still very much alive!
Then I knew where I was. Here was a room with no floor; it was planted in the earth. And all around there was life and beauty and expansion even into the lilac colored room. Here was a room that needed more sunlight to see its beauty.
Then I understood: this vine is living and filling the whole space with its stalks and off-shoots. And yet, it needed care, cultivation and someone to stay here and make it beautiful. Someone who loved the plant could decide how it was best to be kept. It was rightly owed to the root, to the planter of the seed, and the owner of this multi-directional sunroom, for his plant to succeed in its design: full growth. The root decides what will grow, and the wise caretaker must decide once the sapling has had a chance to grow how it will aid the master plan.
I stayed there and received instruction. And I asked my Friend who was with me:
“What do You think?”
“There is more.”
I worked gingerly, painstakingly, and boldly to make room for more sunlight. The effect was unimaginable. The light peered in an ever-widening beam through that dark jungle like a sudden brass solo out of a silent orchestra pit. The vines all reached their tendrils in the direction of the light. The light peered past me into the lilac room, and the vines followed. I kept directing, braiding, organizing, and feeding the stalks around to allow light to shine through. The doorway to the lilac room soon became so overgrown I did not know if I could enter back the way I came again. This however was indeed where I had come to fight the battle for life, and I could see that life was winning again.
Soon, the vines which had sought to wrap around me many times suddenly started popping with life. I turned and looked and saw the lilac room floor, wall, and ceiling was well-lit and now beautified with jasmine, and the fragrance filled the whole room with the sweetness of new life.
All except for the Red and Blue rooms. Their golden doors did not open to let the plant nor its fragrance enter in.
I stepped carefully back out of the room now swarming with life, and as I wiggled my way back into the lilac-colored, now flower-covered room, I turned to the door and started to clean away the dirt smudges on the front of it. As I did a word became clear, one letter at a time.
– I have seen Your life and it is good – Each day begins with light and hope – Each tree bears fruit and sweetly carries – The glory of the tree for a while tarries – The Man also, his life is good – Each birth is a bright sunrise of hope – In his offspring Heaven’s joy is sweet – And the prime of his life is sacred. I have seen enough.
And the one who stood to the South said:
– I have seen frailty and emptiness and loss – Poverty sweeps the world like a flood – Broken relationships twixt all things bringing sorrow – And when all is done, if it matters none can know. – The Man also, is weak and fraught with loss – His injustices strip him of his dignity. – He fights his neighbor and both are filled with sorrow – His life is fleeting, and if it matters none can know. I have seen enough.
And the one who stood to the West said:
– I have seen the end of all things. – The Past: the receiver of all that lives in time. – I see Darkness deepening where once was light. – The stop is sudden. then all is silent night. – The Man also, his end is near – His works may out last, but only for a time. – His heart is dark staring into that night – The end is inevitable whether wrong or right. I have seen enough.
And the one who stood to the North said,
– I have seen both wealth and power. – They course through the world like a poisoned flower – They rob the weak many and feed the rich few. – They kill the righteous and boast against You. – The Man also, is drunk with wealth and power – He raises his glass, toasting himself man of the hour. – He squashes the poor and praises the brutal – He slaughters the righteous and wars against You. I have seen enough.
And the One who was above them said, – “There is still more.”
Through translation and the molten nature of meaning in language, I have recaptured in my imagination something pleasantly sober the way even the hardest truths can be. No matter how hot the fire burns or how brutally it breaks down constructed things to irreducibly simple forms, it still brings warm life to the cold and reminds us of deep things intrinsic to human existence.
Consider the earth, with only the surface inhabitable, and yet beneath an entire world un-trodden by man’s body, where only his dreams and musings may go. Understanding goes deep with a person deeper than their body, but it also comes forth from within a person in ways that effect their tangible livelihood. There are lightnesses of understanding which men contemn, and there are depths to which some men go that many who go there seem stuck upside down with their bottom sticking up in the air: completely un-comprehensible to the surface mind. The lightness does the heart good, like the sea air does the deep-sea diver’s lungs good. But the Ordinary alone is not enough to maintain a profitable life. The ordinary life in which we live– that layer of reality in which we move around, make decisions, and react with decisions and chance far greater than our own control– is ruled by other layers of reality. And the deepest layers are the Highest layers. Let me lay out these layers as I see them.
-1. Humor. Humor is the level of understanding to which one person goes, to make another person exert greater understanding than himself. It makes the ordinary feel that he is indeed sane, and this fool who prates on and on makes him who is listening feel that he is sound. It is the humble gift God has given humanity to encourage and comfort the world with its ever-precarious, ever sobering, ever deepening conditions of decay and uncertainty and trouble. Well-crafted humor is the very fragrance of understanding rising up from the vents of that which is deeper than us. But, when used effectively, humor raises us to great heights, then either sets us down again, or plunges us into the deeper understandings into which we must dive. O the thrill of the hammer swung backward through the air, only to rush forward to drive the nail home once more! O the exuberant and silly breath we take to dive once more to the depth of understandings!
0. OrdinaryReality. The realm of the real and clear. Here far is far, and near is near, a spade is a spade, and a cigar is a cigar. Do not read between the lines. Words are sufficient. Listen to what is said. Read what is written. See what is shown. Many find this simple life good. It is. And yet the corruptions beneath the surface have far too often twisted the surface to that which is not simple. Look around you at the dishonesty of man’s hearts. A simple weight well-calibrated is true and good. It is the plethora of dishonest weights that make this level of understanding a dangerous ground. “Don’t believe everything you read” say the wise, and wizened. Solomon also said, “The simple believe every word, but the prudent consider their steps.” ~Prov 14:15.
1. Joy— Ah the pledge of good faith! There is truth beneath the surface! The Promise of a better surface life comes from digging a deep foundation and a roomy storehouse where the temperature is cool year round. Such cools calm the temperamental flares of heat which spring from a lack of reserve. The deep waters of life flow beneath the surface, and cool water is a nourishment to every soul seeking shade and sweetness in this broken desert of life. A man of understanding carries within him an oasis in any desert! He is the happiest of fellows to embrace the streams of truths that water all of the plants up on the surface. Indeed, for many this results in a nerdy withdrawal from all things surface and ordinary, and thereby leaving those without refreshment feeling abandoned, ignored, and deprecated. Nevertheless, these ordinary folk gain the hearty laugh of staring at people up-ended, bottoms in the air seeking some sort of treasures and refreshment that would otherwise be bought with a great cost underneath the hard sun.
2. Weight— The pledge is sweet, and the collection of waters tastes good, but there is too much water to carry around with a person. A man’s canteen, strength, stomach, and mind can only handle so much. Eventually, the immovable and inescapable nature of what is understood leads many to shy away from the responsibility which is thrust upon those who have understood it. Not only are there many who are in need of the life here in encased, but the one who knows of it comes to see the real predicament at the surface. The pressure and weight of all the understanding comes to sober the one once drunk with the pleasure and raucous laughter of understanding, and he comes to see his own face in the water, and in that face recognize his own makeup of water, and his resemblance to the owner and supplier of all the water in the world. These are those who are stuffy and self-absorbed and feel impregnated with the grand self-importance of that which they hold, lest they give way to the deeper levels of understanding which require greater courage.
3. Sorrow–Fingernails grind on a chalkboard, and a bone fallen out of joint is a deep pang of something wrong in the world. Understanding brings grief, that depth of the weight of all the world crashing down on broken supports. Seeing people in reality slip off the edge into oblivion unnecessarily just because the scales are tipped out of favor of real justice. It is heartbreaking to know not only the problems for so many, but the connection of the problems to other problems both cause and effect, and to see this web of impossibility, like the web created by a mirror shattered and fragmented from some point of impact. Understanding in people who face the deep underbelly of the world have one of two directions they can go now. It is too thick to explore here, you cannot go left and right. You can return to the surface with your sorrow you have learned, and boast over your understanding as deep as you went. You laugh at those who revel in new discoveries, because you have forgotten the pledge of good faith, and have seen heartbreak the more understanding you have grown. You can return jaded. Or you can go down deeper.
4. Surrender— The point of impact, where the real world we live in was shattered like that mirror is the brokenness of humanity which must be acknowledged and dealt with at the source of the problem: me. G.K. Chesterton understood this when asked in a Newspaper, what is the problem with the world.” He responded with these two words, “I am.” This is the moment to which Understanding leads a person: will you seek to preserve your life, or will you lose it? Here again, the man who has understood– who has “stood under” the reality of life and seen it’s fractured-ness and fractals and fractions–has two choices. He can lose self in annihilation or an inglorious manner that utterly rejects the goodness of understanding he learned at the beginning. Or He can entrust himself to the wise One who led him down this far on his journey of understanding, and commit the unpardonable sin against self: surrender to someone greater than yourself who requires your all with no caveats, no reservations, and no exit strategy. This is the “Lose yourself” that Jesus spoke of when he said, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel will find it.” It is a risk. It is very much like death. It’s like giving up, except it’s more like “Okay God, you win. I won’t keep fighting you anymore. I will actually submit to you, and accept that You are the Savior and not me.” This is the decision to which your journey deeper into understanding has been leading. There is Reality, Joy, Responsibility, Sorrow, and ultimately Surrender of self to the One who has proved how worthy He is through his impeccable track record.
This is the end. Of the old life. Of the New life This is the beginning.
“There are depths of love that I cannot know, til I cross the narrow sea. There are heights of love that I may not reach, til I rest in peace with Thee.” ~Fanny Crosby
Understanding brings a person to the core of all that is, and he discovers the need to surrender, and once there is surrender, suddenly, from the very core of a person’s existence to which Understanding has led, a life is born anew. A life that is never-ending because it is begun by the One who is Never-ending. A life that is not your own, but belongs to the One who truly owns all things. A life that is set not on a broken platform, but the deepest possible foundation: to the core of reality itself: The Maker, the Word, and the Resurrection. This is where Understanding can bring a person, but only with humility, love, grace, and courage–honesty with self and God. He is there at the center of the layers of reality. And in His presence is the FULLNESS of the joy the understanding of which one found hints at the beginning of his journey. He is there, eagerly awaiting those who will take up their cross, and lay down their lives for His World-saving cause.
These are the Depths of Understanding as I have seen it. And I hope that God gives you the heart to go to this depth with Him. Remember: “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” ~Hebrews 11:6.” If you find yourself at any point of this journey and you have stopped short of the Self-Loss Surrender that leads to life, go back to the last point you found yourself, and seek God. After all, “He who seeks God understands all things.” (Prov 28:5)
The problem isn’t God’s willingness to teach
It’s our willingness to learn.
No one wants a course in suffering.
No one wants a diet of hunger.
No one wants a hard road of obedience.
No one wants the hill of difficulty
No one wants the splintery cross on their back
Only to be suffocated when you have carried it long enough.
No one wants to learn humility or compassion
The fear of the Lord or the depravity of his own soul.
No one would be utterly dependent on God
Knowing that God is not subject to our fleshly wants.
No one wants to give up everything to have nothing but God.
No one wants to leave behind their job,
Their home, their family, their hobbies,
Their possessions, their favorite things,
So that all they have is a heart to know God alone.
No one wants to pay the price to know God.
No one wants to forgo opportunity for the necessity of waiting.
No one wants to cease from their work
Until God Himself arises to work through them.
How endless, yet how tireless His search
For just one with a heart to know him!
The one to whom the Son wishes to show Him.
Mark the man of mean estate
Who holds for sin that powerful hate
And bears the scars of loss and shame
So not in vain He can bear His name.
For such a price, God can be known,
For such a cost, Christ’s pain is shown.
And only to the fire-purged heart
Will God His glorious life impart.
~It’s so hard to see in this place.
So deprived of even warmth as a comfort.
Nowhere to hide from the loneliness inside
The soft, cushy beddings beneath me beat me up.
This irritating, grating, infernal thing.
It won’t let go, and deeply I am suffering.
Keeping tender so life can keep me well-rounded
Or hardening myself and becoming a less beautiful thing.
This insignificant, minuscule granule–
This meager task I am given to do, bearing up under life’s weight
Around me the ocean of political and circumstantial upheavals swirls by,
Toying with my shy shell like one of an angry child’s legos.
It is endless, futile, like the sun’s faint glow which doesn’t warm me here.
My fists may clench like my teeth, unwilling to swallow the silt life thrusts me into
But anything kept in my fist will escape the moment my pearl sees the sun
That day when my tired muscles shall give out,
Whether by the prying knife, the ravenous creature, or the cruel, stony washboard of life
Eventually my deeply and closely guarded treasure will emerge
And through sifting be surfaced to be found by the Merchant.
May He find a pearl of great price.
~Inspired by T. Austin-Spark’s sermon, “A Pearl of Great Price.”
That kindness we do ourselves
When we echo what reality serves
In etching out the dream-eral* expanse
Of a sort of discovery you don’t know exists
I enjoy games like Myst: Riven
Where the puzzles all make sense
And where the hours tick slowly clicking
To find my way back home where I belong
It’s what my soul wants most of all
To see Him, to be held in His embrace
And every time I attempt to scratch the page
I feel it scratching back with honesty exchanged
Can a canon fire into the night
And not explode where it landed?
A thousand voices echo in one chorus
While my own voice must remain authentic.
A brisk and dismal wind tears comfort far away
From the ever watchful peace that guards my heart
A wind of many swirling truths all clamoring to be heard
When one speaks louder than any strange or English word.
Alas the earth does moan beneath me
It’s song, a dirge that still rises up in hope
A hope that sees the beginning and the end
And indefinitely shoots at that target He intends
Can wings bear aloft this coil?
Can dust breathe life back into itself?
Is there any way life can still continue on
Unless the way is paved with living stones?
The Devil knows the power we underestimate
The power of the good coming to those who rest
In the faith-full assurance of the kindness of a Savior
Who calls, “Be yourself. It’s all creatures of I AM can do.”
A burning bubbles up from satisfaction
Rejecting too much pleasure without rest
The soul must find its peace in One who works
And who took a day off to enjoy what He had made.
*Ephemeral and Dream are combined here into dream-eral
It is common in my walk through this world to find flowers–
Roses downcast and wilting on the ground,
And to take them in and make a place for them to be appreciated and adored.
The first I ever did this was Fleera,
Which I named such more out of aesthetic than science.
It was my third year in college
A flower well-formed which fell by my college dorm,
I found just prior to a walk in the woods with friends.
I held it and kept it out of sentiment and captivation
While one friend cast her petals to the wind
And the water carried it far away.
I brought mine home to a plastic bowl
Usually used for chicken noodle soup
And let it float there in all its stemless beauty.
The second was the journal in which I myself was plucked
And was called from my job at Walgreens as a service clerk
To return to my home, to float upon my parents’ waters.
I waited there uncertain of what to do,
Crying out to God, “I do not know why I am here!”
I wrote in my journal, Secor Fleeru
“How is it that I have come to be here?”
And my grandfather’s health began to decline
And I stopped my mouth.
Because I was not grafted into the branch of Walgreens
I could offer my fragrance by his bed close to his nose.
Which suffered from aspiration of the lungs and pneumonia.
And when he passed, the resplendence of my heart for him
I placed in song to be played in his ears by his bedside.
As he crossed the threshold into the gates of glory.
And so Secor Fleeru found a purpose for his pages.
The third happened today, almost three years to the day.
I mowed the lawn around my parents’ house,
In the back there was a Rose bush planted above our septic tank
It had flourished under my Graceful sister’s Joyous planting.
And the previous evening, my parents and I looked out and marvelled
At this one rose towering high above the others toward the heavens.
The next morning I found two smaller buds in a 6 inch ceramic vase
But these were not the Fleera.
The Fleera I found while I mowed the lawn.
I came upon it, recognizing it from the night before.
It lay downtrodden, it’s pedals browning on the ground.
I stayed my blade, and reached to clutch the stem.
It was not cut, but broken off,
By the fierceness of the weather and its weight.
I took it in, not counting the browning edges against it.
I gave it its own crystal cup.
I rested it up against the other smaller flowers.
I smelled it and relished its more poignant fragrance
The fragrance of a beauty bruised yet still shining
Because it is alive to be beautiful
And it is beautiful to be alive.