Once, while the great Jewish sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him: “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?” The man answered that it would require 70 years. Honi asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. So, too, will I plant for my children.” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)
The Jewish and Christian traditions demand attention to the present. But both are also spiritual traditions grounded in the goodness of creation.
For that reason, Judaism and Christianity are deeply shaped by a sense of indebtedness to the past and responsibility for the future. We are here temporarily, but we are part of the much larger work of God and of generations past and future. That awareness should ground us and motivate us to think about our lives in much larger ways.
There is a lot of talk today about finding meaningful relationships and work. But if sociologists are right, that quest is often conducted in narrow ways that are about the tight confines of our individual lives. How would your quest change if you grasped the fact that you are here temporarily and the meaning of your life depends upon the degree to which it is grounded in the lives of those who were here before you and those who will be here when you are gone?