by Maria Evans
In our Epistle today, Paul, speaking to a Gentile audience, uses the metaphor of a grafted olive tree both symbolically and as a cautionary tale. The readers/hearers of his day very likely would have easily seen the grafted wild branch as the Gentiles, and the rootstock as Israel. In the metaphor, he cautions the Gentiles. They exist as grafts on the tree as a result of brokenness, and brokenness can happen to anyone. The same forces that broke branches on the rootstock can break the new grafts.
Although I am pretty clueless about the process of grafting olive branches, I have a friend who grafts apple trees as a hobby. (He’s originally from upstate New York, and folks take their apples pretty seriously there.) A few years ago, he was captivated at how prolific the apple tree in my backyard was, and asked me if he could get a branch and graft it onto some of his rootstock. My reward for agreeing was he taught me a great deal about the details of the process of grafting apple trees, and I learned just how much preparation and detail goes into the process.
First, one needs reliable rootstock–something native to the area that is hardy and handles the climate well. Second, the graft needs to be thick enough to withstand the grafting process. A branch too small and immature (less than ¼ inch diameter) stands little chance of taking. Ideally the graft and the scion (the branch where the graft will be attached) should be of comparable size. The branches are cut in a diagonal “tongue and groove” fashion to both maximize surface area and help support each other. It’s important to see green, healthy cambium on the cut surface of both branches. Finally, it’s crucially important to tape the grafted area securely and cover the tape with a waterproof barrier (such as wax) to keep the bugs and mold out.
Yet, the thing that struck me the most was no matter how wonderful and prolific the graft may be…ultimately it’s all about the rootstock. The graft is wholly dependent on the rootstock for its life. Paul’s words are a reminder to us to desire grafting to solid rootstock. What we watch, what influences us, who we hang out with–in short, the people and things that feed us–need to be solid and life-giving, and there has to be something living, growing, and of comparable size in order for us to attach to it. We have to be mature enough to receive this nourishment.
As Christ-followers, it becomes important for us to attach ourselves to reliable sources of spiritual food, and, just as Paul cautions his audience that brokenness can be inflicted upon anyone at any time, we are not immune to the brokenness of the world simply because we’re grafted onto the Tree of Jesse.
We can see a metaphor for the church in the process of grafting, as well. Part of our role in this grafting process is to be the tape and the wax–to support what is green, growing, yet vulnerable, so it can grow to full maturity. We illustrate that every time we enthusiastically respond “We will!” at a baptism. Nurturing is a big piece of the job description in the family of God–and especially important when it comes to the newest members grafted onto that tree–yet, the brokenness of the world can still shatter even the sturdiest branches among us, and they need our support too.
When are the times you’ve been the graft, and when are the times you’ve been the scion of Christ’s rootstock? How might you be the tape and the wax for someone vulnerable in this broken world?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.
Image: Graft: Photo by Tom Capuano