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The Tree of Hippocrates


On the island of Kos, the home of Hippocrates, the great physician from whom we get the “Hippocratic Oath”, there grows a tree that history says Hippocrates himself once gathered his students for class. Although the current tree is only about 500 years old, it is purported that this tree is a shoot of the original tree. Additional legend places the Apostle Paul as once teaching under this tree. Even if the tree is not fully original the site it marks is. Still, 500 years is quite an accomplishment for a tree, however, such a great span of time has seen curious developments.


Close examination shows that although the tree has every appearance of a regular tree from one side, from the other, it is plain that the tree is fully hollow. In fact, the trunk consists of only a semi-circular ring of about 6 inches or so of actual tree with bark both inside and out. The ornate metal railings around the tree are, in fact, supporting some of the branches as there is not enough left of the trunk, or probably the roots either, to support the weight. Still, year after year, the tree somehow, almost inconceivably, manages to sprout a few sparse leaves and fruits.


Tourists gather to the tree mainly because of the legends but some probably visit just to see a tree that old. I would. How often do you get to see a tree still plugging away after half a millennium? You don’t because this tree should have succumb to natural order years ago. This tree long ago ceased to be able to support itself. Only because of its fame has this tree been carefully preserved at great expense. No one goes through this kind of inconvenience for regular trees. If you just want shade, this one should have been removed. Younger trees are hardier, more productive, and far less expensive to maintain. The same can be said about some churches.


Some churches exist as tourist attractions. Only because of fame, legend, or reputation are they still propped up and preserved no matter the cost. They ceased to produce a profitable harvest years ago. Oh, they still sprout the occasional leaf or fruit and each time they do, people gather and marvel that life still reside there after all these years. Meanwhile, just down the road, there is a healthy, vibrant church that with minimal effort and investment produces maximum harvest. But that is where the analogy between the church and the Tree of Hippocrates ends.


It is not necessarily age that defines churches alive only because they are propped up by human effort. It is the spiritual foundation of the church. Even at 500 years of age, the Tree of Hippocrates could be very productive with a strong root system and foundation. Very young churches can easily get to a point where it ceases to make sense to preserve them. Very old churches can be vibrant and productive. Any church that has begun to question its viability should know that rejuvenation starts with the roots. Reestablish on the solid rock and health will return.

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