Sunday, July 31, 2016

Considering the Flowers... and Fruit

Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) [Click to enlarge.]
This month, our garden has displayed the brilliant red flowers of the Royal Catchfly (Silene regia). We enjoy the regal flowers and their colorful avian visitor, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird visiting flowers.

The Royal Catchfly is named for its habit of “catching” flies and other small insects that visit to feed on its nectar.  The calyx or floral tube of the Royal Catchfly is covered with tiny glandular hairs.  These glandular hairs secrete a sticky fluid that traps flies and other small would-be pollinators that are too weak to escape.  However, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird does not land on the flower but instead it hovers as it draws sugary nectar from each flower to support its high metabolic rate.  This relationship illustrates how different plant species can “select” which animal species they will attract (and release) in order to allow pollination necessary to complete sexual reproduction through fruit and seeds.

Royal Catchfly:  Note green, sticky floral tubes
As I sat admiring the array of lovely Royal Catchfly flowers, I was reminded of how God’s creation often reveals or underscores valuable spiritual lessons.  There is one lesson for us in the beauty of the flowers.  In Matthew 6: 28-33, Jesus  points to the wildflowers in a nearby meadow and notes that, though they do not “toil and spin” they are more spectacular than King Solomon in all of his glory.  Hence, the flowers teach us the lesson not to be like unbelievers who tend to view the material world as their total reality, and therefore, are often anxious about accumulating wealth and having security.  Instead, we are to seek after the eternal priorities of our Heavenly Father Who already knows our needs and will supply them as we wisely do our part.

Our main focus will be upon a second lesson from the flowers; namely, that flowers are always very dependent on the leaves in order to acquire their attractiveness necessary to produce fruit and seeds.  Although leaves can make a garden flower or tree look lovely, leaves and stems are only a means to the end that each plant is able to reproduce itself lest it become locally or totally extinct.

The Royal Catchfly is a perennial plant, meaning that it can live year after year because roots and sometimes parts of the stem can survive during an unfavorable season like winter.  Each Spring, when the new growths emerge from the ground, energy stores from the rootstalk are used to launch the leaves and stems.  The plants become self-sufficient through photosynthesis as long as sunlight, water, soil nutrients, and carbon dioxide are available.  During this “vegetative” phase, perennial plants give priority to growth of leaves supported on stems that can hoist the leaves high enough to insure sunlight absorption and gas exchange.  For Royal Catchfly, this height is from 2 to 5 feet.

Once the leafy stalks differentiate to produce flowers in July, the priorities shift.  Now, the vegetative parts of the plant actually become “sources” of nutrients, water, and organic constituents.  Fruitful plants are those in which the leaves and stems transport food to the reproductive parts so that flowers can flourish and attract pollinators by means of visual appeal, release of fragrant compounds, and provision of nectar as food.   After flowering is completed, the leaves will begin to turn yellow and then brown as chlorophyll-protein compounds are broken down and resultant amino acids and other organic constituents are transported from the leaves to the growing fruit and seeds.  This pattern is particularly noticeable in crop plants like soybean and corn which have been enhanced genetically so that the economically valuable seeds (soybeans) contain as much nutrient value as possible rather than allow these nutrients to be lost in the crop residue, the resulting brown leaves, stalks, and chaff.
Evidence of flowers being preferred over leaves (arrows)
Of special interest this year was my observation that one of the Catchfly’s flowery stalks was partly severed from its roots. The severed condition obviously limits the supply of water and nutrients available to both the leaves and the flowers.  But, interestingly, the damaged stalk responded with an earlier than usual shift in priorities in order to favor the flowers at the expense of the leaves. Notice the wilting leaves (arrows) in stark contrast to the firmly opened Catchfly flowers.  Considering the importance of fruit-bearing and the spreading of seeds, we can infer a logical benefit to the Royal Catchfly in how the damaged stalk hastened its shift tp favor flowers and fruit/seed production at the expense of the leafy part of the plant.

The second lesson, teaching the importance of being fruitful, is underscored from Scripture.  Matthew 21:19 records an instance in which Jesus encounters a tree with lush leaves but no fruit:

Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.

Fruits (capsules) of Royal Catchfly at time to collect seeds
Jesus intended this particular fruitless tree to represent the nation of Israel which He regarded as fruitless in their role of representing His glory on Earth.  Adam and Eve had already rejected God’s authority and His plan that they, along with all creation, would be fruitful, multiply, and fill the Earth (Genesis 1: 22, 28).  Now, God’s chosen people, Israel, had refused to live as a glorious testimony of His goodness in a fallen Earth.

Like the nation Israel, and the fruitless fig tree, no plant can be fruitful unless the leaves become subservient to the flower, fruit, and seeds.  Instead, the leaves must have the same relationship with the flowers and fruit that John the Baptist had with God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

The Apostle John tells us about the mission of John the Baptist, in John 1: 6-7,

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to testify about the Light
(Jesus Christ), so that all might believe through him.

John the Baptist was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and all the country of Judea was going out to him (Mark 1: 4-5a).  We know from modern experience how pride and corruption can plague the lives of preachers who acquire large followings.  But in spite of his great following, John the Baptist remained faithful and directed the “spotlight” onto the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  John 3: 39-30 records John’s stewardship as “friend of the bridegroom” (emphasis mine):

He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.  He must increase, but I must decrease.

After John pointed his followers to “the Lamb of God” (John 1: 29), many of John’s followers followed Jesus.  John eventually ended up in prison and was later beheaded (Matthew 14: 3, 10).  Like leaves and shoots that spring up in the good soil and flourish for a time, their glory must give away to another, greater purpose—the nourishing of flowers which produce fruit with seeds in them to ensure future growth and reproduction.

Combining the biology of how leaves must submit and give up their life in support of flowers, fruit, and seeds with the example of John the Baptist who “decreased that Jesus might increase,” we have a major principle:  biblical leadership requires “submissive steward leadership.”  In other words, LEADERSHIP without STEWARDSHIP will SINK the SHIP.”  Pursuit of power and glory at the expense of submissive steward leadership does not accomplish an enduring result, but can end in ruin.   Instead, a disciples of Christ must be so in love with Him through the power of His Spirit that he or she can deny himself, take up His cross, and follow” Him (Luke 9: 23).

How about you?   How about me?   Are we all leaves and little fruit, like the fig tree that Jesus rejected?   Leaves make great hedges to divide property and hide people from one another.  But submissive stewardship honors God, family, community, and nation.  It begins in a child who honors his father and mother, the first commandment with a promise (Ephesians 6: 2), and is a basic foundation for social behavior.  The child who learns to submit his or her desires to the authority of parents and siblings within the family, and enters a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is preparing to be a steward leader as an adult in marriage and family, church ministry, civic responsibility, and place of employment.

Like the leaves that literally “give up” their organic constituents to supply the fruit and seeds, and like John the Baptist, the “friend of the Bridegroom” who lived and died while casting the bright light of hope on Jesus, so our Father in Heaven calls us as His beloved children to deny self and to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence… (1 Peter 3: 15).  But, unlike leaves of Royal Catchfly or Soybean that eventually wither and die, we can live on as submissive stewards and friends of the Bridegroom, perpetually drawing our sustenance through our obedience by abiding in the vine which is Christ.  For he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15: 5).

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