Some years ago I planted a blue spruce pine tree in our backyard. The sale tag on it said the tree would grow only 15 feet high. But the tag was wrong: the tree is already over 30 feet tall and shows no signs of slowing down. Obviously, Nature plays its own game. Nature can be helpful, but it can also be cruel! For example, after a recent forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified into ashes, still perched upright on the ground at the base of a tree. Sickened at the sight, he gently tapped the bird with a stick. As he did, the bird disintegrated, but amazingly three tiny chicks immediately scurried to safety from under their dead mother's wings. The mother bird had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and gathered them under her wings. She could easily have flown to safety but would not abandon her chicks. The blaze arrived and scorched her body but the mother remained steadfast. She died so that the chicks under her wings might live! Indeed, one of nature's finer moments!
In today's Gospel parable, Jesus explains God's kingdom by using a parable of nature. He compares this kingdom to a seed thrown in a field; as the seed dies in the soil, a sprout is born. The sprout in turn generates a bud, and the bud delivers a ripened grain for harvest. The seed never sees the harvest; yet without the seed, there is no harvest! Or a pine nut falls and buries itself in the ground. By dying, it gives birth to a tree that in time grows tall with strong branches upon which eagles nest. The pine nut never sees the tree; but without the pine nut, there is no tree! The Gospel says that Jesus presented these parables to fit the experience and maturity of his listeners. Why don't these same parables affect us more? Perhaps because we live in a more complex society and culture that too often neglects nature, abhors quiet and a slow pace of life while promoting speed, noise and electronic gadgetry. With so much going on, we are too stressed to enjoy the simpler, quieter and more profound pleasures nature offers us. But there is a terrible consequence here: by losing our intimacy with nature, we lose intimacy with God!
How can we admire the sight of a gray wolf moving across a field, of an early morning fog covering the wetlands, of a falcon riding the winds and circling the sky, when our eyes are focused on our computers and blackberries? How do we reach out to needy people when we're holding a cell phone in one hand and a remote in the other? How can we admire the sounds of the wind whispering through trees, of birds singing their serendipity songs, or of surf rolling in off deep waters, when our ears are listening to traffic noises, stock reports and endless commercials?
We reject nature at our own peril because nature has much to teach us. Why do we continue to build homes on flood planes? Or plant oak trees right next to the foundations of our houses? Or construct roads along the sides of soft-rock mountains? ! Why do we blow up mountain tops to mine minerals, and then leave desolate wastelands behind. Why do we pollute our soil with garbage, our waters with chemical wastes, our air with millions of tons of toxins, and then wonder why we get cancer? Nature's delicate ecosystems are systematically destroyed by human manipulation and greed. I wonder what parables Jesus would tell us today if he tried explaining the kingdom of God to us in terms familiar to us. What stories would he tell us to fit our times and experience? Would it matter? Would we really listen to him, or would we just continue playing computer games and surfing websites? I wonder. I really wonder! Do you wonder, too?