Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (RSVCE)
The first Psalm presents to the faithful reader the two roads presented to mankind. The first is pictured as a tree symbolizing the man who fears God. The tree is planted near a river, just like the first home of mankind that was a garden planted by two mighty rivers that symbolized the flow of wisdom from the throne of God: “And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” (Revelation 22:1) Opposite to the source of clear divine wisdom, we are presented with the “counsel of the wicked” that is sinners, scoffers, and such: “Outside [are] the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loves and makes a lie.” (Revelation 22:15)
The river is a path that leads straight into God’s wisdom to spiritual fruitfulness. The ultimate image of a fruitful tree is the Cross of Calvary. In the following image we will see Jesus beginning his last tour of Israel, walking the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Jericho was the first city conquered by the Israelites led by Joshua as they entered the Promised Land. Jerusalem, is the city of the Temple and also the last city to be conquered by Israel led by King David.
The prophetic image is obvious: Christ is following the same path that Israel followed in conquering the land. He will complete the victory of the people of God by offering his life on the Cross. His is the path of the righteous man. When a Roman soldier pierced his Sacred Heart, water and blood flowed from him that would become the two rivers bringing life to a New Eden, a New Promised Land, and a New Israel that would eventually conquer the whole world: his Church, his Bride.
He was passing by Jericho when he spotted Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Zacchaeus was a short man who had to climb to a tree —a sycamore, a kind of fig tree— to be able to see the famous Rabbi Jesus. Jesus communicates to him his desire to stay at his home. Zacchaeus reacts by making a public confession of his sins and promising to return what he had unjustly exacted from the people of Jericho. The man clearly symbolizes the good fruit of the New Israel, the nascent Church.
The fruitful tree
[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 (RSVCE)
The unfruitful tree
Weeks after, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethany. He observes a fig tree but he is disappointed to find the tree is barren. In a strange display of anger, Jesus curses the tree and causes it to wither. The prophetic image is again very clear. He is showing what is going to happen to the unfaithful Israel. This scripture is presented to us along with the cleansing of the Temple and the punishment of the money changers. It reminds me of Moses coming down from the mountain with the Law of God, only to see that Israel has fallen into idolatry by worshiping a golden calf in a strange regression to the religion of their former oppressors, the Egyptians.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons;and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. (Mark 11: 12-16)
Saint Luke presents to us with a different facet of the same teaching that includes a time element: three years of patience have yielded no fruit and the tree remains barren but the dresser of the vineyard intercedes for the barren tree, promising to fertilize it for one more year in the hope that it will become fruitful. Now, the ministry of Jesus was about six months past his third year when he arrives in Jerusalem. The cursing of the fig tree acquires now a clear meaning: divine patience is quickly coming to an end.
He spoke also of this parable; “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?’ And he answering said unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shall cut it down.’ (Luke 13:6-9)
Two kingdoms and two churches
The Kingdom of Israel, consolidated during David’s reign, was passed to Solomon. After the death of Solomon the Kingdom was divided. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained in the south and the ten remaining tribes to the north. The southern kingdom kept Jerusalem as its capital while the northern kingdom kept Samaria. In time, the northern kingdom fell into apostasy and was finally destroyed by the Assyrians who dispersed the ten tribes all over the Assyrian area of influence. The unfaithful Israel was utterly destroyed.
That could be used as a prophetic lesson. It may be a perfect prophetic model for us. In our days, the New Israel, the Catholic Church has split into two ‘churches’ after her enemies infiltrated her with the idea of destroying her from within. At this point we would do well in reading the second part of Psalm 1. Comparing the fates of the righteous man and the wicked, the Psalmist ends with these verses in Psalm 1:4-6:
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council we have seen the emergence of the unfaithful, fruitless church created by Modernism. Their golden calf is a mix of doctrines borrowed from the latest worldly fads: “the chaff that the wind drives away”. Their credo does not only incorporate the ideas of the wicked but scoffers, sinners, as well as those who dare to want to erase the law of God.
During the reign of this unfaithful cadre of false prophets, we have seen the Catholic religion deformed in many ways. We have watched the sad spectacle of the closing of parish after parish in a brutal crescendo that includes the burning of many ancient buildings, the demolition of temples and monasteries by hostile governments, and the disgusting abuse of our children by monsters posing as saintly men of the cloth.
Just like in the days of Jesus, the time to produce fruit is coming to an end. It seems to me evident that Our Lord is coming soon to inspect his property. To use the words of a wise faithful priest with many years ministering for the salvation of souls: “I would not like to be in the shoes of the Modernists when Our Lord comes to inspect the Temple!”
Individually, we have time to be like Zacchaeus. Let us climb to the tree and try our best to look like appetizing fruit for divine consumption. While we do it, let us stand clear from the barren tree lest we are cursed by Our Lord for participating in their fruitless ways.
Illustration: Zacchaeus by Niels Larsen Stevns. Photo by Gunnar Bach Pedersen. Randers Museum of Art, Denmark. Courtesy of Wikipedia.