A symbol of triumph
“Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Lk17:6).
Today’s image of a tree planted in the sea would have conjured up very clear notions in the minds of the apostles. The tree is a symbol of life. And for the Jews, the sea represented evil. It is the place where the devil resides: Psalm 74 (73):13–14 (Leviathan).
This image of a tree planted in the midst of the sea is a symbol of the triumph of good over evil, of life over death.
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus is baptised by John in the waters of the Jordan. Jesus, who is the tree of life, is planted in the waters (in the sea), a symbol of evil.
The baptism of Jesus demonstrates the triumph of good over evil, the triumph of light over darkness. It demonstrates what Jesus meant when He said that a tree could be planted in the sea.
Pope St Gregory the Great (540–604 CE), commenting on the baptism of Jesus, places the Jordan event in the context of the Genesis account of the creation of the world.
In the beginning, the Spirit transformed chaos into cosmos, “moving over the waters, and thence set out the order of the creatures”. The Spirit transforms chaos into cosmos.
Already Ignatius of Antioch (50–108 CE) had said, “He was born and has been baptized in order to purify the water by his passion,” a theme taken up by Clement of Alexandria (150–215 CE), and the Gospel of Philip (3rd century).
The early thinking of the Fathers of the Church was that by stepping into the Jordan, Jesus consecrated all waters. Jesus is reminding us today of that tree that was planted in the sea. We recall His baptism.
The prophet Habakkuk cries out to God in the face of a situation which appears to be bleak.
It is like the people of The Bahamas at this time, reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Year after year, when one disaster strikes another is lurking somewhere.
Habakkuk is tempted to give up. God tells him to remain faithful. The vision must be written down. The vision will be fulfilled in its time. If it comes slowly, wait.
Paul reminds Timothy in today’s second reading to fan into a flame the gift that God gave him when He first laid hands on him. For God’s gift “was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love and self-control”.
When things become difficult, and our enthusiasm, like that of Habakkuk and Timothy, begins to wane, we need to be reminded of that image of the tree planted in the sea.
We need to remind ourselves that goodness is stronger than evil and that light always triumphs over darkness.
Today’s readings are reminders—to Habakkuk, to Timothy, to the Apostles, to the people of The Bahamas, to us! We know that God is with us in the midst of our difficulties and troubles.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the gift of faith which You have given to us, Your children. We ask You to increase that faith within us. Help us to recognise that You are indeed present to us and that You can allow trees to be planted in the sea. We ask that You may sustain us with Your faith when things seem to be falling apart, remembering that good always triumphs over evil, that life always triumphs over death and that trees can indeed be planted in the sea. Amen
The gospel reflections for October are by Abbot John Pereira OSB of the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict.