Today we are just over two weeks into the season of Lent, a time to refocus and reorder our lives. Just over two weeks ago we were invited to remember that we are dust and that to dust we will return, sharing in the fate of our first father, Adam. But the goal of this time is not simply to dwell on our own mortality and our fallen state, but to be reminded through it of our dependence on the God who saves us.
The job that God first gave Adam was to be a gardener, and after the Fall he still retained this job, or means of livelihood, though with added challenges due to the effects of his sin on the created order. Lent is a time for a kind of spiritual gardening, for ensuring that our hearts are receiving the kind of nourishment that they need in order to bear good fruit. And perhaps the most important or, at any rate, the first task of a gardener is to make sure that his garden is well watered.
Our first reading today from Jeremiah speaks of two fruit trees. The first is a barren bush, bearing no fruit because it is in “a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.” This is contrasted with a different bush, one that is fruitful and is even able to withstand trying conditions because it is “planted beside the waters and stretches out its roots to the stream.” Jeremiah tells us that the first bush is an image of the one who is “cursed” because he “trusts in human beings,” while the second is an image of the one who is “blessed” because he “trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” This may seem straightforward and familiar enough, but I would suggest that the end of this passage provides the reason for why the Lord himself comes to water our otherwise dry and thirsty hearts with his life-giving water.
It is not because human beings as such are evil that I should not place my trust in them. It is because my heart is “more tortuous than all else … who can understand it?” The Lord alone. He knows each of our hearts in a way that we ourselves never could. And it is because he knows us, because he “probes the mind and tests the heart,” that we can put our trust in him. We can trust that he knows what each of us needs to have life and to bear fruit, even in the most trying conditions. Should I place my entire trust in human beings, then I would indeed be cursed, because no human being, myself included, can ever know my heart and love me in the way that God does. Our role as human beings is to listen to the Lord when he speaks to our hearts. Wise men and women, who themselves are “planted beside the waters,” can help us to discern what God is saying to us; however, it is not in them but in God that we place our trust, for he alone will always be with us so that even in the “drought” we may still “bear fruit.”
Photo by Paul Hanaoka