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Spiritual Matters by Rev Chris Sparks

A lesson from the Mulberry Tree’

It’s an awesome year for mulberries! They’re big, fat and juicy, and our tree’s loaded. So there’s stewed mulberries crowding the fridge and freezer and mulberries occupy pride of place on the dessert menu at dinner – accompanied by ice-cream or freshly made golden custard of course. Yum! There’s even berries to give away to those who consider purple-stained fingers a small price to pay for the delicious fruit!

Last year was a disaster. Because of the drought, black clouds of hungry fruit-bats stripped the tree of every tiny, green, immature berry – leaving not a single one to ripen.

Growing up in the UK, we had all kinds of delicious, succulent berry delights. But no mulberries! Which is a little odd for we all knew the words of the nursery rhyme: “Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush”. But interestingly, the mulberry is not a bush at all. It’s a tree!

But I digress.

Picking them from the tree is the least enjoyable part of the mulberry equation. But while plucking away at the plump berries hanging on drooping branches the other day, I became aware that the berries on one part of the tree were of a decidedly poorer quality. The berries were very small, quite emaciated and distinctly unattractive to both eye and palette. The words of Professor Sumner-Miller popped into my head:

“Why is this so?”

Well, I kept on picking – unwilling to be distracted from the task in hand at that particular point. But later, decided to investigate – and discovered that the poor-quality fruit all belonged to one particular branch – an offshoot of another high up in the centre of the tree. So out came the trusty ladder and I climbed up past the lower branches to where the suspect limb was attached to its parent branch.

Ah! Now it became very clear. The affected limb had broken off the feeder branch and was hanging by little more than a few strands of wood and its coat of bark, supported in situ by the branches underneath.

No wonder the fruit was under-developed. As it had broken away under the load of its precious fruit, its supply of nutrients had all but dried up!

Nothing could be done now to save the limb. And so, with chainsaw in hand, I performed the essential amputation – a virtual pruning.

At one stage of His ministry, Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine. My father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit…and prunes those that do, so they will bear more fruit.”

The fruit to which Jesus referred is the fruit of the spirit; qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control. These are the characteristics displayed by someone embedded in Christ – who lives in and for Christ and, by extension, for others as well. God expects our lives to be fruitful.

Jesus was approaching Jerusalem one day and saw a fig-tree that bore no fruit. He was probably very hungry, tired, disappointed and frustrated at the absence of fruit that he cursed the tree. It withered and died.

A fruit-tree without fruit in season may look okay – but functionally, useless.

The analogy for our own lives is clear: God expects us to be so embedded in his him and in his love that we produce the health-giving fruit of his spirit in order to meet the needs of those around us. Failure to do so negates our God-given purpose.

Spiritual Matters by Rev Chris Sparks