Last year I planted some grass on a barren spot of my lawn and it wasn’t more than a couple weeks before it had taken root, sprouted, and filled the muddy area with tender green shoots. It’s amazing, when you really think about it, how rapidly life can take root and flourish. But you will rarely hear me discuss the grass I’ve planted. The trees I’ve planted, however, are a different thing. I vividly remember planting four very small Pin Oaks with my father over thirty years ago: today they stand over fifty feet tall. I also remember planting six Tulip trees with my mother over twenty years ago and, excepting the sad passing of one of them, they now stand over thirty feet tall. If you really get me talking, I can talk about the four gingko trees and the nine dawn redwoods I’ve planted, not to mention the various pines, beech, birch, catalpas, and bamboo (yes, bamboo!) There are many wonderful specimens that I would be happy to show you next time you stop by the house. (Yes, I know how much that makes me sound like an eccentric old man, but it is what it is!)
Of the many reasons I like trees the main one has to be their longevity. I know that these trees, barring an unforeseen circumstance, will long outlast my lifetime. This truth carries both sadness and happiness. I am saddened that I will never see these trees that I have planted reach their full maturity. I can only imagine what they will look like in their full glory, but I know I never will see it. On the other hand, it makes me happy to know there someone, fifty or a hundred years from now will look at the trees I’ve planted and marvel at their beauty. Each spring they will see the trees cover themselves with a new cloak of leaves and in the fall they will see that green cloak change colors and drop to the ground, covering the grass in a natural blanket, the beauty of which even Solomon never knew.
But none of the grass I planted last year will still be alive. None of it. Sure, there may be a distant cousin or a great grand sprout or two still clinging to the earth, but grass does not live very long. I know there are some grasses which under extreme care can live to be ten to fifteen years old, but that is the exception. Besides, the beauty of grass does not lie in its individuality but rather in a collection of millions of blades in open fields, all of which have a short lifespan. It should come as no surprise then that I don’t rave about the grass I’ve planted, right?
As I think about the contrast between trees and grass, I am reminded of a theme first introduced in Psalm 1 and reiterated in Psalm 92. Psalm 1 describes the righteous person “like a tree planted by streams of water” and the wicked person like the “chaff which the wind drives away.” The images in Psalm 1 reemerge in Psalm 92 where the wicked are described as grass doomed to destruction and the righteous like trees, planted in the house of the Lord, bearing fruit in their old age. It seems that it all comes down to the difference between the long life of righteous trees and the swift destruction of evil grass.
Let us remember for a moment how the psalms between Psalm 1 and Psalm 92 describe how the wicked are exalted and seemingly prosper over the righteous (Psalm 73). Let us remember what it feels like to live in a world where God has seemingly abandoned his children, and they live in pain and deal with injustice. But then we read Psalm 92, where we are told of the big picture. We are told that the wicked will not prosper. We are told that being planted firmly in the courts of the Lord ensures longevity. And we are told that the fruit we bear into our old age declares the righteousness of the Lord.
While these are easy words to say they are not easy words to live. There are times we must endure wild grass overrunning the smallest saplings. There are times we must endure long periods of drought all still believe that the best is yet to come, even if it comes after we have passed from this earth. And there are times when the words in Hebrews 11:39, “did not receive what was promised” should be best read as an epitaph
But this is not new. We know grass fades, and so we must not envy the grass. We should long to be like trees even though we know they eventually die. But we must remember there is a third image in Psalm 92 besides the grass and the trees. And it is in this image where we find our hope. There is a rock, unfazed by time and circumstance that does not change. A rock upon which we can rest. I suspect Jesus had this rock in mind when he said, “the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” This rock provides eternal stability to those who rest upon it, and this rock is the source of eternal life and true righteousness. I will only give you one guess as to the name of that rock.