A fully grown Lebanon cedar is a magnificent thing to see. Its dark trunk and green foliage stretch upward in a triangle to a pointy peak. At the same time, it stretches outward, in great arms of branches. Very slow growing, they can reach to enormous height and breadth. Having seen some in the wild, you can easily appreciate why the Lebanon cedar is such a beloved emblem of the Lebanese everywhere.

Jesus would have walked through such cedar forests in his missionary travels, and the trees themselves would have been very well known to the people of the Holy Land. The Lebanon cedar features often in the Bible, as, for example, in our first reading today. From the smallest of shoots, over time, a great tree emerges. No wonder it was a favourite image to convey meanings beyond its botanical dimensions.

From the least and lowest can come the huge and abundant. From God’s providence, and in God’s hands, the desperate situation of the Israelites in exile produced the renewal of the people. As Ezekiel prophesied, ‘[Israel] will sprout branches and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.’

While not a cedar, the image of the growth of a mustard tree is similarly used by Jesus to speak of the growth of God’s kingdom among believers. From the smallest of seeds, planted and grown in God’s good time, can come a bush that protects the small creatures, the little ones, and produces spice to fragrance life.

Jesus spoke to the people about God’s desire for their lives using such images because he understood that the small and hidden are the closest to God. Children—and the childlike—would especially have grasped Jesus’ meaning, and delighted in what he was offering. They would have marvelled at the image of a great tree, and learnt of the promise of greatness for them. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ They knew what it meant to grow from small things, and to hope that their lives would be fruitful.

We, too, have reason to hope that this also awaits us adults. Belonging to God, being a part of the Body of Christ, is to discover how God is growing us for greatness. It might take time, and incrementally we might not notice our growth, but this is God’s purpose for each of us.

God does not wish for us a life of meanness and struggles, even if this is a reality we may find ourselves confronting. God wishes for us to flourish in him, and with him. That’s not an economic prediction, but it is a full humanity promise. Rich or poor, but especially the poor, God grows us towards our full human stature, created like him, and in his image.

To borrow from some words in today’s psalm,

Planted in the house of the Lord, [we] will flourish in the courts of our God;
still bearing fruit when [we] are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just.

To plant ourselves in God’s kingdom—or, more accurately, to allow ourselves to be planted by God in his household—is to be nurtured by God to grow in his life and ways.

Banner Image: Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853–1919), Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon, oil on canvas, 1907, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest.