Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Another Approach to Tame and Wild Olive Trees, or Yearning for Home and Adventure



by Shawn Tucker:


The most common reading of Jacob 5 involves the history of the House of Israel. What follows is another approach to that allegory. This is not meant at all to replace the standard readings; it is just another approach.

Jacob 5 includes a contrast between tame and wild olive trees.  The tame trees seem sure and steady, but they also prone to becoming listless, almost lethargic.  The wild trees seem to brim with life and energy, but display a propensity to lack focus for that vitality.  When the tame trees begin to decay, the Lord of the vineyard wants them to produce new life in the form of young, tender branches (Jacob 5:4).  When this is only somewhat successful, the Lord of the vineyard determines to graft the tame branches with the wild branches (versus 7-8).  What seems obvious from this is how the Lord of the vineyard seeks to keep the best of the tame branches, perhaps their good fruit and stability, and combine that with the vibrant energy of the wild branches.

Initially this plan seems to work well, as energetic wild branches help the good roots of the tame branches to produce good fruit (verse 18).  After what seems like another season, the Lord of the vineyard finds that the trees have produced a wide variety of useless, distasteful fruits (versus 29-31). Apparently the wild branches had overrun the valuable tame roots, making the trees useless to the Lord of the vineyard (37).  Frustrated with the outcomes, the Lord of the vineyard contemplates burning the whole vineyard and starting afresh. 

What is decided instead is to take some branches from a poor spot, regraft them to the tree, remove the most problematic top branches and fruit, and see if the remnants of the tame branches can help the trees produce good fruit again (52-60).  Servants are called and a great work begins.  Finally the Lord of the vineyard and the servants are rewarded for their efforts with strong, healthy, vibrant trees providing plenty of fruit. 

Contrasting Yet Complementary Desires

So here’s another way to see the tame and wild olive trees: as the interplay of contrasting yet complementary desires for home and for adventure.  The desire for home is the desire to feel loved and accepted, to feel seen for who we truly are, and to feel cherished for that, even with our imperfections.  Barta Heiner at BYU talks about this desire in a BYU Forum.  We all want to feel this, and Heiner connects this desire to how we felt with our Heavenly Parents before we came to earth.  This desire can make us secure and steady.  But too much of this desired home might make us complacent or listless.  Ideally that desire is combined with the yearning for adventure, for growth, learning, and improvement.  But the vitality, energy, and risk-taking associated with this desire can lack focus or proper discipline.  (For a longer discussion of these drives, see this article in Dialogue.)

Jacob 5 could be about using and harmonizing these desires.  In adolescences, it seems that we naturally want to grow, learn, and adventurously take risks.  Sometimes this vital drive combines well with the roots we have in a feeling of security and place at home, and our lives are fruitful.  But perhaps all of us, in one way or another, fail to properly balance the security of home and the growth of adventure.  Subsequently our lives produce some of the bitter fruits or outcomes.  But the Lord does not cast us off.  He works (with His servants) to remove the most disagreeable fruits, but all of the nurturing seems to have the goal of helping us bring together complementary drives so that they can take us where He is.

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Shawn Tucker grew up with amazing parents and five younger, wonderful siblings. He served as a missionary in Chile during the Plebiscite and the first post-dictatorship election. After his mission, he attended BYU, where he married ... you guessed it ... his wife. They both graduated, with Shawn earning a BA in Humanities. Fearing that his BA in Humanities, which is essentially a degree in Jeopardy, would not be sufficient, Shawn completed graduate work in the same ... stuff ... at Florida State University. He currently teaches at Elon University in North Carolina. He and ... you guessed it ... his wife have four great children. Twitter: @MoTabEnquirer. Website: motabenquirer.blogspot.com.
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gif Image credit: verseguru (used with permission).

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