Jacob wanted to explain how Jesus was like a rock that people passed by and said, “rock, you are big and strong, but you are also heavy and I cannot lift you. So I am going to find other smaller rocks to build my house with.” And then, lo and behold, a little bit later they turn around and say, ”where is that big rock I passed by? I need the biggest strongest rock of all to lay here at the foundation of my home.”
And when they return to the rock, the rock says, “I knew you would come back. Now lift me up and you will see that I am as strong as you said, but I am also light.” But Jacob didn’t know how to tell a story about a rock. Though rocks can be colorful when polished, the vast majority of rocks are not vibrant or exciting but dull and grey. So while rocks are strong and hard and forgiving, they are also boring. And Jacob was trying to talk about Jesus and he was going to go on for a long time and he didn’t want anyone to get bored. So instead of talking about rocks, he talked about trees. Olive trees.
Olive trees are not boring. They are big and full of knobs like handholds so that children can climb all over them. They are not so tall that you will be scared of falling. But they are tall enough that if you climb to the top, you will be able to see over any fences and out over plains, and you will see the beautiful world God created for you.
A little bit more about olive trees. Olive trees can live a long time. There is an olive tree alive today that was alive when Jesus was on the earth, over 2,000 years ago. While they can get a lot older than you or me, they cannot live forever. They have silver leaves. They are shaped like a hurricane. And of course they grow olives. Olives are not sweet like apples or oranges. They are more sour. But they are not sour like lemons or limes. Olives are just like olives. There is nothing else quite like an olive. If you do not like olives, you will soon learn to love olives. Because olives are delicious.
And this is where Jacob’s story starts. There was a man who had an olive tree. And it grew tasty olives and the man loved to pluck the olives and eat the olives. Sometimes instead of eating the olives, he would smoosh the fruit between two rocks and create oil. And then he would put the oil on things like bread, or pasta, or garbanzo beans.
But then one day, the olives stopped tasting so good. And they stopped producing oil. And when he ate them, they gave him a stomach ache. It made him sad that the tree was not doing well. He said, “It makes me sad that this tree is dying,” which is really just an upside down, inside out way of saying, “I love my olive tree.”
So he tried to save the tree by cutting away the branches that were old and hardened, and he dug around the tree to make the soil soft and light. And he fed the tree with soil, and with water, and with sunshine. And the tree breathed better, and grew new branches that reached out towards the sun. But the top of the tree was still dying. And that made the man sad, because he loved his olive tree. He said, “It makes me sad that this tree is dying.”
So he decided to move some of the tree branches to other trees. Did you know that you could move one tree’s branches to another tree, and the branch will still grow? So if you wanted apricots, but you only had an apple tree, you could go to your neighbor and say “Hello neighbor? Might I use a branch from your apricot tree?” And you could put that branch in your apple tree, and it would grow apricots, and your tree would look like a little firework exploding with red apples, green leaves, and yellow apricots.
But the man in Jacob’s story didn’t want apples or apricots. He wanted olives. He was an olive conisure. So the man moved the branches from one tree to another. And from other trees back to the first tree. He hoped this little mix around would help the olives taste good again. And it worked! The olives were big and delicious and the tree was happy and healthy which made the man happy because he loved olives and olive trees.
But the olive tree wouldn’t stay healthy forever, because olive trees are like people. Sometimes people are healthy and happy, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re not because they haven’t been fed well, or they had an unhappy day, or it was too hot outside. And sometimes they’re unhealthy and unhappy for what seems like no reason at all. God can give us a perfect day, a good family, a happy home, and we can still find ways to be miserable. As with people, so it is with olives and olive trees.
And so while the man had given his olive trees everything, the olive trees were still sad and unhealthy. And so the man was sad. The man knew that no matter how many branches he moved from one tree to another, he could not keep the trees alive forever. And so he gathered up all the good olives. And then, because he couldn’t bear to see his trees grow soft with rot or fall in pieces, he burnt all his trees to the ground. He burnt them down while the wood was still strong and hard and the fire would burn hot enough to scorch the earth.
Then all that was left was the ground. And under the ground there were seeds and roots. And from the seeds and roots new trees would grow and they would be young again, and beautiful.
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