LEADERSHIP AND SERVICE: A PARABLE OF WISE TREES

  1. When Nature is Teacher 

Nature provides us with profound lessons that we often miss in our haste through labyrinthine libraries and the riddles of barren sages.  In “The Tables Turned,” William Wordsworth the English Romantic poet appropriately and passionately calls, “Come forth into the light of things, / Let Nature be your teacher.”

In his profound leadership lecture during a critical season in the history of his nation, one ancient prince, it would appear, had long been of the same persuasion that nature could be a great teacher.  To his audience, the prince conveyed a weighty lesson couched in a parable about contented trees wiser than ambitious men.  Here is that prince’s tale that wasted on his hearers like water on the impervious back of a duck…

  1. In Search of a King 

Once upon a time, according to that prince, the kingdom of trees, in search of a king, approached the Olive Tree with the offer of unanimous selection without election, if only the Olive Tree would accept the honour so freely offered – to be elevated above all other trees.  Strangely, the Olive Tree replied, “How can I cease from producing my oil by which God and men are served, just for the tenured honour of swaying over other trees?”  The Olive Tree saw things differently.  It saw things not from the questionably attractive perspective of personal fame but from that of continued relevance firstly to God, and then to humanity.  The Olive Tree seemed to have been saying that sometimes grave distractions come enticingly dressed as promotions.   In other words, that some apparent elevation could actually be a tricky demotion, and that any promotion at the expense of one’s peculiar and primary purpose to God and humanity should not be hastily accepted.

When the Olive Tree declined, the Electoral Delegation of the trees proceeded to the next in line – the Fig.  “Come and reign over us,” they offered.  But the Fig Tree replied, “How can I abandon my unique sweetness and good fruits, to become king of trees?”  The Fig also declined, but the Electoral Commission would not relent.  They proceeded to the Vine.

“Be our king,” they proposed to the Vine.  Again, this tree knew its place too much to be distracted with a transient glamour appearing to be nobler than its unsung sweetness.  The Vine Tree replied, “How can I cease from my wine by which God and mortals are cheered, just to be king over trees?”  It counted the cost; it refused the call.  That tree also seemed to have been saying, “I am engaged in something nobler than a throne.  Any ascent demanding the forfeiture of my true self and identity; any rise at the expense of my peculiar usefulness to God and society, is no ‘sacrifice’ worth my consideration.”

  1. King Bramble 

In desperation, the ‘King Selection Committee’ turned to the Thorn Tree (or Bramble, as it was called).  Any tree can be king, they might have surmised.  The Thorn Tree wasted no time in accepting the offer.  Promptly, it gave an acceptance speech that was an unmistakeable omen of disaster.  No one protested.  Sarcastically, it offered a shade to trees; a shade that it couldn’t afford, being itself such a low brush plant, lower than most other trees.  It proceeded to warn without concealment of a fire by which it would destroy even nobler trees like the tall Cedar.  Despite all those clear warnings, the stupid trees proceeded to crown the Bramble as King.  The consequences are yours to guess.  Jotham is the name of the prince that told the tale, as would be found in the Bible book of Judges 9:7-14.  The warning was clear, that everybody could not be a king.

  1. The Different Colours of Greatness 

About John the Baptist it was announced by a holy angel to the father, “he shall be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15).  If an angel said that to me about my son that is yet to be born, I would expect that the child would be a king, or some famous wealthy person dressed in glistening robes, riding about in golden chariots of fire and dining at royal banquets, with queens and princes at his ready attendance.

Strangely, that was not Heaven’s definition of greatness.  Of the child about whom the angel spoke of greatness, there was none of those flamboyances.  The ‘great’ John the Baptist had his address in the wilderness, not in some plush highbrow section of Jerusalem.  He was dressed in camel’s hair, not some expensive designer suits.  For food, he had wild locusts and honey, not fatted calves and wines in goblets of gold (Mark 1:4-6).  What then is greatness, according to Heaven’s definition?

In Jotham’s parable, each of the initial trees knew its noble place, and realised also that some ‘promotion’ comes at the expense of certain key roles and values.  Each tree celebrated its peculiar kind of greatness.  No tree begrudged the other’s uniqueness.  Each tree was different in what it gave to God and society. None strove to be or out-be the other.  None possessed the other’s greatness, but each one had something to give, and was proud of what it gave.

A throne does not define all relevance or greatness in life.  The unctuous Olive does not have to have the sweetness of the luscious Fig, yet it is no less important to God and humans.  Being different does not mean being inferior.  The Vine gives sweet wine, not oil and medicine, like the Olive.  The Fig is celebrated for its delicious fruits and superlative sweetness, but it does not gloat over the balmy Olive that is not to be judged by taste buds.  None of those wise trees was crazy for a high stool that would take from it what made it the tree that it was.

All greatness is not seated on a throne or clothed in purple or carved in marble.  A throne is not necessary the highest point in life for every tree.  Nature still speaks, even the sparrows and the flowers, the Master said (Luke 12:24-29).

From The Preacher’s diary,
March 28, 2023. 

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