We love the locust tree that shades our front yard, and I have hope that it will continue to thrive. It’s a messy tree, shedding thousands of leaves and seed pods in the fall, but its sturdy branches have sheltered countless generations of squirrels and blue jays. And last year a young human told us he had been brought up by it.
A stranger, he came to our door with his girlfriend in the spring. Would it be all right, he wondered, if he spent a few minutes with our tree? He had grown up in the house we now live in, and the tree had offered him comfort and support through long and lonely days. He used to climb it and sit among its lacy branches. Later I saw him out the front window; his arms wrapped around the trunk of the tree and his cheek pressed against the bark. He was talking to his tree.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. We contemplate Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate as Pilate tries to understand why Jesus has been handed over to him for execution. Is he involved in insurrection? He has been called the king of the Jews.
No, Jesus says. His kingdom is not of this world. If it were, his followers would be battering down the walls to secure his release. But his kingdom can’t be found on any map. It is not a place of temporal power.
Jesus is a king because anyone who belongs to the truth listens to him. He is the king — in other words, he is the center point — of a transformed understanding, a new mind.
This radical understanding that Jesus embodies is like a tree with deep roots and sturdy branches. It is rooted down within the dark solidity of earth and it’s leaves stretch up into the misty heights of heaven. It is a messy tree. The Christ tree sheds millions of leaves, and seed pods by the ton, in all directions. So many new seedlings have sprung up from it!
It nurtures countless beings. The flying ones rest amid its canopy and the climbing ones build nests in the forks of its branches. We humans can spend hours resting in it, listening to it. Its essence is summed up in one solid, simple reality. To be full and complete as human beings, we must love this tree, must love God with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength, and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. There are countless shapes and variations, countless fruits and seeds, leaves and branches manifested out of this reality. One could spend years tracing the sap that flows down to the deepest roots of it and up to the highest, newest leaves.
What tiny leaf on the tree are you? In the kingdom that is the Christ tree, what role do you play? How are you nurtured and how do you inspire and care for others? How do you praise and give thanks? What is your particular way to love?
Our kingdom is not of this world. It is a vast, ancient, living being that grows and transforms with each life that is born into it. It heals us and cares for us as we reach out in care for the world. It is the Truth.