All kinds of trees will flourish along both sides of the river. Their leaves won't wither, and their fruit won't fail. Every month they will bear a fresh crop of fruit because they are nourished from the water that flows from the temple sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves will be for healing. Ezekiel 47: 12
The fruit tree is a metaphor in Scripture employed by storytellers, poets, prophets, apostles, and Jesus himself. It spans both testaments and thousands of years as an image that contrasts beauty, health, and life with decay, decline, and death. The tree that establishes its roots in the giver of life thrives and in turn becomes life-giving; its fruit is good. Alternatively, the tree with shallow roots in deprived soil withers and becomes useless; its fruit is rotten.
We visited friends in Michigan this past weekend. They have a lone pear tree in their backyard. It's a nice tree, pretty to look at. It's fruit is not extraordinary, but it's good, and the tree could feed our two families for a short while.
Agriculture as practice is believed to have emerged from the Ancient Near East, the context of most of our biblical texts. It is no mystery, therefore, that this is such a prominent image in scripture. As a rural community, I suspect we understand this image better than others. Yet its emphasis is still crippled by our unhindered access to any fruit at any time because of globalization, imported commodities, and massive grocery stores. We pull our fruit out of refrigerated irrigated containers, not off branches. Our friends do not rely on their pear tree to sustain them, but fruit and grains were significant commodities in the Ancient Near East (Num. 20:5).
The metaphor remains, however, and we are left with our own experiences. We can imagine the sweetest taste of each season's choice fruit. We still know what it is to pick a fresh berry from a bush, fruit from a tree, or tomato from a vine and immediately bite into it. We know the smell and texture of the finest fruit pies or smoothies. We also know how fruit looks when left out too long. We know what is smells like or tastes like when it is discolored and rotten. The healthy tree produces good fruit. The unhealthy tree does not.
To bear good fruit, life-giving fruit, we must be rooted in the love of Christ (Eph. 3:17), centering every aspect of our lives in the words, actions, and character of Christ (John 15:4-8), and drinking deep of the sustaining river of living water that flows from the presence of Christ (Ps. 1:3, John 4:14). And each one of us can be a mighty tree, firmly rooted in the giver of life, with life-giving fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).
When we were in Michigan, we didn't eat from the single pear tree. We ate apples - alot of apples. We visited local orchards and walked through rows and rows and rows of beautiful thriving apple trees. We were encouraged to try every kind of apple as we explored the extensive variety of colors and sizes and textures of apples. We ate our fill as we piled the fruit in our wheelbarrows. We enjoyed apples the rest of the weekend, and will make applesauce to enjoy months from now.
The single fruit tree is good. The orchard, however, is extraordinary! Ezekiel pictures a river flowing from the sanctuary of God. The divine presence is depicted as the source of life and health for countless trees in endless succession, bursting with mouth-watering fruit and vibrant leaves; an eternal source of provision and health. What an incredible picture of what God's people can and should be.
We are meant to flourish together. As God's Church, let us continue to extend our roots deep "down into him" (Col. 2:7), that all who pass our way may discover a magnificent orchard where sustenance and healing is in abundant supply.