“Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, as one who keeps his master will be honored.” Proverbs 27:18
I love this analogy.
While I haven’t done it much in my life, I do know a bit about what it is like to tend to a fruit-bearing tree. There’s the planting, the proper watering, the needed pruning and cutting, the guarding and protecting from harm, and, of course, the timely cultivation. For the most part, the yield of such good tending, as was the case with the wonderful peach tree in the backyard of my childhood home, is fresh and delicious fruit.
Before we go any further, though, let’s recognize that tending to a fruit tree is itself a metaphor. This could be tending to one’s work and doing it well. Or it could be performing a charity assignment with diligence and effectiveness. In these and other such activities of life, we’re given the delight and enjoyment of stewardship.
So, now that we have both the work and the benefit of “tending a tree” firmly in our minds, let’s ask: what’s the proverb’s analogue, and what does it mean?
We’re taught to keep one’s master as one tends to the tree, and that doing so brings honor. Who’s the master, and what’s the keeping?
While a master could surely be a superior at work, I think first of fine teachers. Do we select them carefully and give them a prominent place in our lives? Do we listen to and learn from them? Do we engage, perhaps even argue constructively, with them, and honor them and what they teach? Do we protect and keep them and their teachings in our hearts and minds as we go through life?
If we do, it could be said that we benefit from their “fruit” and are honored.
I also see as a “master” those fundamental principles that guide the conduct of our lives. This could be Divine guidance in the Bible. It could be the principles that characterize the best of American traditions. It could be the best standards of our culture – in its art, its ethics, and so forth. When we live by and keep to these principles, we share in the ongoing “fruit of the tree,” and are honored.
I certainly see God as Master. When we keep to God’s ways, I have faith that God blesses us.
Finally, I believe we have a “master” in the duties we bear. Don’t we feel a deep and abiding sense of honor when we serve, as a matter of duty, to fulfill our most vital obligations? I certainly felt honor when I lived out to the best of my ability a son’s duty during my mother’s final days of life.
Speaking of honor, I want to close with an insight that may fascinate you. The Hebrew root word that is translated as honor is kavod. This word does mean honor, but it also means burden.
It is indeed a burden to do the hard work of tending to a tree, as it is to serving those people and values we hold dear. Yet, in bearing this burden, we are also honored with peace and contentment, its sweetest fruit.