The Cherry Tree

The Cherry Tree, written by Daisaku Ikeda and set in post-war Japan, tells of two children who one day stumble upon an old man who is attempting to nurse back to life a barren, aged and war-damaged cherry tree. At first the children are puzzled by the man's devotion to a tree that already appears to be dead. When they inquire about this, the old man explains:

It's true she hasn't blossomed since before the war. But one day, with a little kindness and patience, she may again. Not in my lifetime perhaps, but one day! I'm sure of it.

The children, inspired by the old man's devotion and hope, agree to join him in his efforts to nurse the tree back to life. They work hard, but much of their time is spent waiting and hoping.

And then one day a single pink petal appears, followed in due time by a rapturous display of fruit-produicing blossoms.

The church, I believe, could learn much from this simple story. Most importantly, the story could remind us that we are called to devote our lives to nurturing this tree called the church, even when the tree seems dead and even when we have no guarantees that we will see in our lifetime a bountiful harvest of the Spirit's fruit. We may or may not see the church bear abundant fruit in our generation. We may or may not see the reign of God manifested more fully in our day. But we must not give up hope that God will do what God has promised to do. In effect, we find ourselves in a position similar to the one occupied by those saints enumerated in Hebrews 11. After recounting the ways in which their lives embodied faith, the author of the epistle writes:

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. (Heb 11:39-40)

Two things are striking about this passage. First, none of these exemplars of faith received what God promised, yet they remained faithful. Like the old man in The Cherry Tree, their faithfulness was not contingent on their seeing, in their own day, that for which they longed. Second and perhaps even more striking, the completion and perfection of God's promise--a promise these men and women of faith longed to see fulfilled--will not be brought about apart from us. This, it seems, is why we find ourselves "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1). They have run their legs of the relay and have passed the baton to us. The race is far from over and they remain in the stands, cheering us on--not least because they know their promised reward will not be secured apart from us. Is it really thinkable that we who find ourselves on the track, though tired and even perhaps lagging behind where we would like to be, would simply take off our running shoes and head home once it became clear that the race would extend beyond our lifetimes and that we could not be assured that we would be ahead by the time we passed from the scene?

...If we refuse to accept that call of being a "light to the nations," we might find Jesus' words to ancient Israel echoing in our own ears: "Therefore I tell you, kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom" (Mt 21:43).

passage from: Life on the Vine