The palm-tree is called in Hebrew tarmr, and in Greek phœnix. It is a dioecious tree, and belongs to the natural order Palmaceae. The plants of this interesting family are characterized by their tall, usually unbranched stems; their pinnate or fan-shaped leaves; their flowers growing on a single or branched spadix, covered by a spathe; their fruit being a nut, drupe, or berry; and their seeds containing cartilaginous or hard albumen, with a small embryo in a cavity remote from the hilum. It has been calculated that some spathes contain 200,000 flowers. Palms are valuable plants, and furnish to man most important products, such as starch, sugar, oil, wax, fruit, coverings for habitations, materials for manuscripts, etc. (adapted from: Balfour, J. H., The Plants of the Bible, pp. 72, 1885)
In Sacred Scripture, palm trees have served as important backdrops:
- In the Book of Judges (4:5), Deborah, a prophetess, judged Israel under a palm tree.
- The wood of palm trees was used in the temple. (1 Kin. 6:29, 32, 35; 2 Chr. 3:5)
- In Ezekiel’s vision of the temple (41:17-18), the walls in the inner room and nave were carved likenesses of cherubim and palm trees.
- Jericho was known as the City of Palm Trees. (Deuteronomy 34:3)
- And on Palm Sunday, we are reminded that the branches of palm trees were thrown in the way when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (John 12:13)
Regarding palms, the Psalmist (92:12) prayed: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.” But what does this mean? Merriam-Webster states that the word, flourish, means “to grow luxuriantly, to achieve success, to be in a state of activity or production, to reach a height of development or influence.” While helpful in establishing a greater understanding of growth, this definition seems overly concerned upon the here-and-now. For modernity, our success is measured by what is gained; namely— stuff! As the performer, Madonna, has told us: “Cause everybody’s living in a material world…”
For those concerned with eternity, however, there is an entirely different Way! One might even say that our growth has a mission.
In her Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, describes this mission:
“I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.”
In the story of Lazarus, Martha turned to Jesus and said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (Jn 11:21-27)
Through her life experience and encounter with Jesus, Martha’s faith was tested and grew. In things eternal, in things that matter, she flourished!
During Holy Week, may we grow in understanding so that we may see what is important in our lives. May we grow in faith. May we grow in wisdom. May we grow in love. May we flourish like the palm tree in Our Lord’s living garden.