Once there was a farmer who planted an olive tree in his garden. He carefully watched over the tender green shoot, watering it and pulling the weeds that threatened to choke the life out of it. As it grew into a proud tree, he anticipated the day when it would begin to bear its precious fruit in abundance.
Outside the garden grew a wild olive tree. It did not receive the care that the gardener lavished on the cultivated olive tree. Its branches were scrawny, its leaves small, but in its wild and haphazard way it produced a steady but sparse crop of small, bitter olives.
As the cultivated olive tree matured, its branches grew strong and luxurious with leaves, but no olives appeared. Year after year passed, and still the gardener waited in vain for a harvest. He rebuked the olive tree, saying it deserved to be cut down and burned. But with compassion he dug around the tree and worked fertilizer into the ground, watered it, and waited again. Still it failed to produce the oil-laden fruit that the gardener desired.
Brokenhearted, the gardener took his ax and began to cut away the barren branches. Then he carefully grafted in branches from the wild olive tree, and again fertilized and watered his tree. To his delight, this hybrid olive tree soon began to bear rich, succulent fruit, both from its cultivated and its wild branches. But alas, its fruitfulness was short-lived. In a few years its once bountiful crop dwindled away to nothing. Gradually the farmer cut away the worthless branches, and eventually the entire tree.
Many years passed. The stump withered and its roots dried up in the ground. But the farmer never ceased longing for his tree and the abundant fruit that he intended for it to produce. Others came into the garden and took the cut-off, withered branches and stuck them into the ground. They decorated them and hung ornaments on them and boasted about them. People began to give credit to the gardener for the beautiful arrangements of dead branches that surrounded the place where his olive tree should have been. In time everyone forgot about the olive tree.
Everyone, that is, except the gardener -- he never forgot. In his own time he returned to the garden. Ever so slowly he began to sprinkle a little precious water around the base of the stump, just enough to soak into the parched ground and not be wasted. Faithfully he continued to saturate the ground with life-giving water. And ever so slowly the life that lay dormant in that old, dry root began to respond. When no one was looking, a tiny green sprout peeked timidly from the side of the stump. No one was looking, that is, except the gardener. He saw that tender shoot and great joy welled up in his heart. How lovingly he watches over that little stem! What do you think will become of that new olive tree? Will it fail or flourish?
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:11)