Like a beautiful olive tree

Publish date 08-11-2022

by Flaminia Morandi

Plants: we believe them to be silent and are great communicators, says Stefano Mancuso, a fascinating narrator of the plant world. Motionless, they manage to conquer distant lands, take root in ice and deserts, wherever they bring life. They withstand stress, adapt to the environment, cross the sea carried by fish eggs, resist without fresh water. After a nuclear explosion, they clean up the contaminated environment. They reason collectively, as a group. The invisible web of fungal filaments under their roots warn them which woodland plant needs which nutrient and they hurry to send it underground.

If, instead of looking casually at the manifestations of nature, we immerse ourselves in their essence, we would discover that in every aspect of creation God disseminates his message of love, hoping that someone will stop and decipher it. Attention to the tree, says the Jesuit and biblical scholar Jean Pierre Sonnet, is attention to the man who lives in symbiosis with him. A symbiosis visited by God.

To Pope Francis' invitation for the elaboration of a Mediterranean theology, Sonnet responds with a text full of poetry and references, putting himself in tune with the olive tree: the civilizing tree of the lands of the Sea Nostrum, part of the human garden for six millennia, inspirer of the dry stone wall, stone by stone, by hand, against erosion, creator of our landscape. The olive tree does not foresee old age, the millenary and wrinkled trunk produces young leaves "like a young plant" (Job 14,7-9). In the Christian faith, the olive tree represents the most radical revival of life, it almost has the role of a fifth Gospel: Jesus begins his passion in the garden "of olives", he is buried in a place with trees (Jn 19:41) and in this garden rises again, mistaken for the gardener (Jn 20:15). Jesus consecrated with olive oil for his mission of compassion, "to bind broken hearts" with an "ointment of joy" (Is 61.1; Lk 4.18). For Cyril of Jerusalem, Christian baptism is a participation "in the fruit of the fruitful olive tree that is Jesus Christ", our "beautiful olive tree".

In Deuteronomy, Moses states that in the event of a siege, fruit trees are to be spared: «You will not brandish the ax to destroy the trees, because it will be their fruit that you will feed on ... The tree of the field is he a human being ('adam), to be besieged by you? " (Dt 20:19). The pun is in the analogy between the tree and ’adam: the tree, obviously, is not a human being; or more precisely, he is not a man of war. Each tree is Christic, not only for the cross shape created by the trunk and branches, but for its non-violence. It remains motionless, disarmed in the face of the strategic mobility of man. He takes every blow, he does not reciprocate the wounds that are inflicted on him. He is meek, generous, patient and sweet: like Jesus. And how do we want to be? Like ’adam or like our" beautiful olive tree "?

Flaminia Morandi
NP June / July 2022

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