The Christmas story: Jesus—Tradesman and Gardener

On this day, we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter, son of Mary, son of God. As I thought about these things, I wondered what I might write about in this column devoted to gardening, especially because it would appear on Christmas Day.
I like to think of Jesus as a tradesman. We live in a day when people who do things with their hands are looked down upon, if not down right despised and belittled. Where would the world be without carpenters, grocers, shopkeepers, cooks, plumbers, electricians and gardeners? I think God’s son has honored every tradesman by becoming one of them. He didn’t become a doctor or a lawyer or an Indian chief. Although he was a great healer, well acquainted with law and a leader of men, he was first known as a tradesman. “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3)
I will get to gardening in a minute, but I would like to stress here that no matter what one theorizes, important things must be worked out in time and space. Between the vision of the architect, artist, designer or horticulturist and the accomplishment of that vision is a person who actually does things with his hands – the tradesman. When was the last time you bought a bacon, egg, cheese biscuit at McDonalds? Did the CEO of McDonalds get up at 5 in the morning to cook your breakfast? Did he drive the truck to deliver the raw materials? Was he the farmer who raised the chickens that produced the eggs? No, between the vision and its accomplishment stands the tradesman.
An artist can dream all he wants, but eventually he must put his hand to the clay, his brush to the canvas. He must pick up the violin or sit down in front of the piano, or clear his throat and sing the aria, if the vision is ever to escape from his mind into reality.
Let’s bring this idea into gardening. No great garden was ever built without good gardeners. Plans are just that without the laboring man to put them into effect. A garden design is just a piece of paper without the tradesmen who turns plants and soil into works of art.
Well, what did this carpenter’s son say about gardening and horticulture? Of course the New Testament is full of allusions to growing things. The parables of the Messiah are brim full of horticultural allusions – the sowing of seed, weeds and tares, faith the size of a mustard seed. There are stories of fig trees and allusions to viticulture.
One of my favorites is the parable of the barren fig tree. “A man had planted a fig tree in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser (gardener), ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’ And the gardener answering him said, ‘Let it alone, Sir, this year also ‘til I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well good; but if not you can cut it down.'”
I love this story for more than one reason. It teaches that people have real expectations for fruit trees, as does God for people. But He has patience with us, as well. How often does He dig around us and apply His horticultural craft for the purpose of producing some fruit in us? In the end, gardeners are real people. They know a barren fig tree is well nigh worthless. This story, because it’s based in reality, makes one tremble. Yet, I’m thankful for this tradesman and good gardener for He pleads, “Let it alone, Sir, for this year also.”
Did you know that Jesus was once mistaken for a gardener? After the resurrection, Mary Magdelene mistook Jesus for the gardener by the garden tomb. I wonder what it was about Jesus that made her think He was the gardener? I don’t have an answer to the question, but it’s interesting to think about. Sometimes when I see landscapers (the modern term for gardeners) mowing or keeping the lawn at some corner gas station, I think to myself, “What is it that Jesus had in common with these fellows?” I’ll let you apply your mind to it. I don’t know the answer. But He honored every tradesman somehow on that Easter morning by appearing as a laborer who works with his hands. He began as a carpenter and ended appearing as a mere gardener.
There is a line written on a wall in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. It is short but full of meaning, enough for a lifetime. Here is the line, “Nature is God’s art.” This Christmas season I’d like to commend to you the King whose birth we celebrate. The painter of clouds, no two alike; the sculptor of trees, white and smooth, designed to be viewed against a clear blue sky. He is a Tradesman, an Artist and King. His work is glorious in scope, splendid in detail.

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