In the Old Testament, in Judges chapter 9, a strange story is told. Gideon, the great leader of Israel has died, and his son Abimelech becomes king. Abimelech surrounds himself with thugs and gets rid of the opposition by murdering his many brothers. Only one brother, Jotham, manages to escape, and when he gets the opportunity, he tells this story to the people:
A group of trees decided to anoint a king. First, they asked the olive tree to be king, but he said no – he wanted to stick to what he was good at, producing olive oil. So they asked the fig tree, but he said the same thing – I’m good at what I do, and I don’t want to stop. So they asked the vine. But the vine said the same – why would I stop doing what I’m good at? So they asked the bramble, and the bramble issued a challenge to the trees – what are your motivations here? Are you acting with integrity, or only out for what you can get? If it’s the former – all will be well, but if it’s the latter – things will go badly wrong.
Jotham tells this story to warn the Israelites against making Abimelech king. Abimelech cares for no-one but himself, and it can only end in trouble. The people did not listen of course, and things went from bad to worse.
The story is a good warning to us today about appointing leaders who lack integrity. But what I am interested in here is the response of the trees when they are asked to become king. Each one already has a specific job to do and wants to keep on doing it. They all know what their gifts are, and that that their work helps others – they provide olive oil, wine and fruit. They know what they are good at, and they are content to use their gifts to the best of their ability.
The same goes for us. We all have been given gifts and talents – but not all of us are as sure about our place in the world as the trees are in this story. At Glasgow City Mission, many of our guests’ life circumstances have meant that they have lost sight of the things they are good at – the things that give them, and others, life. Some have never had the opportunity to discover what their gifts might be in the first place, let alone develop them. That’s why staff at the Mission delight in helping guests to discover and develop their gifts and aptitudes. It might be learning how to paint, play a musical instrument or do creative writing, or it might be developing skill they will need for work – language learning or computer literacy, kitchen and hospitality or basic social care skills. It is a joy to see people grow and flourish in their chosen areas.
In the parable, the trees were confident in their identities and roles in life. They also knew their gifts had been given not just for their own enjoyment but as part of God’s plan for his world. Please pray for our staff as they work with guests to develop and use the gifts they have been given – for the benefit of everyone.