A husbandman had a tree to tend. It was planted in good soil in a place where the sun could shine its nourishing rays upon it. He provided it with all he thought it needed to grow strong and fruitful.
But it bore no fruit.
So the husbandman, thinking that it must be suffering from some external pest or weed, dug around it and cordoned it off so that nothing could interfere with its growth.
But year after year, it bore no fruit.
One day, the owner of the orchard approached him. In private, he warned him that if his tree continued to wane, he would have to cut it down to make room for a more fruitful tree.
The other husbandmen saw his difficulty. In compassion, they gave him ideas about how he could help it. Some thought that his efforts to protect it were causing it harm. “By exposing your tree to a few hardships that every tree can expect to encounter and overcome,” they told him, “it will grow strong and its bark more resilient.”
But he told them that his tree was very fragile, and he understood it in a way that they could not. He thanked them for their advice, but assured them that he knew what he was doing. Perhaps their methods of husbandry applied to other trees, but not to his.
But instead of bearing fruit, his tree sprouted thorns.
Once again, his friends came to help. “You did everything you could,” they said; “you expected your tree to bring forth fruit, but instead it brought forth thorns. So you need to prune it. That’s the only way to improve its interior.”
But the husbandman couldn’t bring himself to do it. So he sought the advice of a husbandman who was well-known in the forest. He had written many books on the subject of husbandry, having received all the education of the land. “Intelligent husbandmen of today use better, more modern methods,” he told him. “Pruning has long-lasting, negative effects on trees. If you cared about your tree, you would never commit this abusive act.”
The husbandman believed this educated man and immediately began to utilize some of his methods. He carefully removed each protruding thorn from his tree, polished its exterior, washed each of its leaves, and made it shine as best he could.
One day, as he was taking a stroll through the orchard, he noticed that his brother had a tree that was growing strong and fruitful. Upon contemplating this further, it suddenly occurred to him why his own tree was failing. “My brother’s tree is so tall”, he told himself, “that it’s taking away my tree’s sunlight and casting shadows upon it! Its roots are so deep, it’s depriving my tree of life-giving water and nutrients!”
So the husbandman approached his brother. “Can’t you cut back your tree, brother?” he asked. “It’s overshadowing my tree!”
Being a good-natured brother, the request was fulfilled. “Ok,” the brother said, “I’ll prune my tree’s branches to make more room for your tree.” So he pruned back his beautiful tree.
The husbandman stood by his unfruitful tree and waited to see what would happen. “What a fool my brother is,” the husbandman mused; “I would never prune my tree like that! Everyone knows it’s cruel!”
Suddenly, rays of sunlight shot into the orchard, flooding his withering tree with more light. But instead of making it grow, all it did was reveal the ugly blotches that marked it. Quickly, so no one would see them, he shaded it.
And no fruit was borne.
So he asked his brother how his tree had increased, even after pruning. His brother had a ready answer, and told him.
But the answer was too simple to believe. It contradicted all that the educated husbandman had said. Clearly, his brother lacked understanding. So the husbandman confided to his brother all the brilliant teachings that he had learned.
But instead of responding with accolades over his new-found wisdom, his brother was alarmed. “Did you ask the orchard-owner if these things were true?” he asked. “Of course not,” replied the husbandman, “wiser husbandmen than I interpreted the owner’s words for me, and without them, no one can understand the orchard-owner!”
“That’s not true,” his brother tried to tell him: “The orchard-owner says that trees only bear good fruit when they…” But it was too late. The husbandman, offended, had walked away.
One cool, dark day, the owner of the orchard once more strode into his field. But this time, instead of approaching the husbandman alone, he addressed him in front of the entire orchard, so that all could hear:
“Bear fruit or be cut down and cast into the fire!” the orchard-owner proclaimed.
But the husbandman refused to believe it. “My tree will never be burned,” he told himself; “every husbandry book I read about the orchard-owner says clearly that he would never cut down one of his own trees.” So he stood by his sad, withering, fruitless tree. “My tree is the true beauty,” he told himself, “because it was given to me by the orchard-owner to care for. No one else appreciates it like we do.”
Meanwhile, his brother stood beside his beautiful tree and looked on from afar. “If only he would follow the orchard-owner’s manual exclusively and not the misguided writings of the land. Then, maybe his tree would bear good fruit.”
But the husbandman stood proud and resolved to stay the course he had chosen.
The next day the orchard-owner returned, and this time with the axe.