It’s the sap, not the wood

Imagine a world in 2020 without the novel corona virus. What would we be talking about? Where would our focus be? Sadly, that would merely be a thought-experiment, a pleasant day-dream.


What are the lasting effects that are going to emerge out of 2020?


  • The overuse of the term ‘Covid19’ which will be shorthand to explain everything without having to elaborate?
  • A distrust of the media and their ability to get us caught up in a panic for clickbait?
  • The ripple effect of millions of job losses and all that means for South African families?
  • Less importantly, the members of Sanzaar’s Super Rugby taking the opportunity to split the kids in the divorce.


Perhaps, the lasting effects will not be all that lasting. Our kids won’t remember things quite so acutely as we will, who went through it as adults with fully developed anxiety.


From my further reading of Paul and his letter to the Romans, I came to wonder what 2020 and all this present craziness would look like in arboreal time. I mean, imagine the core sample of a mature tree and what lockdown would look like in contrast with other years.


Not that dissimilar I’ll bet. Just another tree ring, representing an annual orbit around the sun, but you could still point it out and say, ‘that there was 2020’. And trees can live hundreds and even thousands of years.,thought%20to%20be%20more%20than%203%2C600%20years%20old.


In that context, even the corona virus pandemic of 2020 will eventually be forgetfully contextualised.


What do trees have to do with Paul’s letter to the Romans? Romans 9 through 11 are an examination of the nature of faith and what that means for Paul’s people, the Jews. And also for the Gentiles. Previously, Paul had agonized over the non-acceptance of Messiah and wished that he could be lost if it meant that his people could be saved.

Paul uses the imagery of a tree as a picture of faith and being connected to God. As a herald of the coming Messiah, John the Baptist warned the religious leaders of the Jews that they were complacent:


10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The religious life in Israel viewed salvation in a national context, not an individual one. The thinking was if you were descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you were in. John the Baptist was telling them that they had the genealogical heritage in place (a family tree if you will) but that that their connection to God couldn’t depend on that.


Genealogy without faith is dead. Faith without works is dead. There needs to be fruit, evidence, sap flowing through the leaves and branches.


In this section of Romans, Paul explains that God elects. He chooses. He has mercy on some and he hardens others. Paul writes that its just the way it is. God is like the Potter and we are the clay and the clay can’t mount an accusation against the Potter and call him unfair. God’s prerogative has included the Gentiles where they weren’t included before. Now both – Jew and Gentile – have the same way to salvation, through faith in Christ.


Paul knows that people are going to bring up all the promises God made to Israel. Isn’t this chucking away all those promises? If God can shake up the system and make it all about faith now? From the first chapters of Romans, Paul is writing that its always been about faith. Abram believed the Lord and that faith was credited as righteousness.


God hasn’t rejected Israel. He points at himself:


“I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.”


Not all Israel are Israel. Not all the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had faith. Perhaps they had an assumption, but they didn’t necessarily have faith. However there have always been a remnant, a faithful core of Believers among Israel.


Paul writes that God has been faithful to Israel and he will be faithful to the Gentiles. He uses the picture of an olive tree with branches (Gentiles) that were grafted in. Fruitfulness is the criterion for staying connected to the tree.


Jesus also used the analogy of a vine to illustrate the sap that must flow through the branches to show connection to the plant (John 15).


Genealogy without faith is dead. Faith without works is dead. There needs to be fruit, evidence, sap flowing through the leaves and branches.


In this time especially, it’s important to know that we are securely connected to God, like living branches on a living tree.

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