Goldfields God-Talk: Mistletoe
by The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith | Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
In the bush, all the shrubs and trees are biding their time. It is so hot and so dry through this time of year that leaves are dropping to save moisture. So, what is this showy red flower, blooming in the intense January weather, on what looks like remarkably like an August-flowering wattle?
It is mistletoe. It’s a cheeky parasite that doesn’t bother with roots of its own. It has tasty red berries that birds love to eat. The berry may be delicious, but the sticky seed is indigestible. The bird leaves it behind on another branch. It sticks for long enough to germinate. But instead of searching for soil in which to grow, the mistletoe taps into the branch of its host. In a piratical move, it inserts itself into the host’s hard-won supply of water and nutrients. Then it can produce its own branches, leaves and even flowers, at a time when every other plant is struggling.
It’s not in the mistletoe’s interests to overdraw on its host’s resources. If the host dies, the mistletoe will die, too. But if its demands are modest, there is moisture and food enough for both. I wonder what benefit, if any, there is for the hard-working wattle that gives up its water to the mistletoe. Maybe visiting birds, attracted by the berries, provide bonus guano to fertilise the roots of the wattle. But the benefits clearly flow mainly in one direction: from the wattle to the mistletoe.
The relationship between the mistletoe and the wattle is a dry-country expression of the relationship between Jesus Christ and the people he loves – provided we see it as gift, rather than theft. I am not stealing abundant life from a reluctant Christ. Even at great cost to himself, he willingly gives me everything I need for spiritual flourishing. He opens himself to my intrusive and demanding presence. He has access to deep wells of grace and power that I can only dream of, and that I have certainly not worked for; yet he freely shares all those good things with me. He makes the sacrifice from his own body, to feed me, body and soul.
How have I become connected, and how can I stay connected to this Christ who gives me everything? The Holy Spirit began the work, like the birds that spread the seeds. The Spirit put me in place and conditioned me to be ready to grow into Christ. Baptism connected me irrevocably to Christ, and permeated me with the power of the gift of life he offers to everyone who is thirsty. The Eucharist is the ongoing refreshment, the regular nourishment that I can rely on, when the world is dry and harsh, and my own resources are inadequate or exhausted. My mission is to blossom in season and out of season, in the fiery colours of the Spirit, to draw attention to the gift that Jesus Christ offers to everyone.