The Sycamore Tree and the Christian Encounter with Culture

Several weeks ago, I was reading Ratzinger's On the Way to Jesus Christ.

In the chapter "Communication and Culture," Ratzinger presents an "image" of the "path of cultural conflict and encounter." I found the image useful, so I am going to share it here by quoting from the text (which is available from Ignatius Press).

The image comes from Basil's commentary on the book of Amos, in particular from the Septuagint's rendering of Amos 7:14. The verse says:

I was one who slits the fruit of the sycamore.

The commentary from Basil, which Ratzinger quotes, says:

The sycamore is a tree that bears very plentiful fruit. But it is tasteless unless one carefully slits it and allows its sap to run out, whereby it becomes flavorful.
 
That is why, we believe, the sycamore is a symbol for the pagan world: it offers a surplus, yet at the same time it is insipid. This comes from living according to pagan customs.
 
When one manages to slit them by means of the Logos, it [the pagan world] is transformed, becomes tasty and useful.

Ratzinger then adds several things of his own:

The necessary transformation cannot come from the tree itself and its fruit — an intervention of the dresser, and intervention from outside, is necessary.
 
. . .
 
The Logos itself must slit our cultures and their fruit, so that what is unusable is purified and becomes not only usable but good.
 
. . .
 
Yes, ultimately only the Logos himself can guide our cultures to their true purity and maturity, but the Logos makes us his servants, the "dresser of sycamore trees."
 
The necessary intervention requires understanding, familiarity with the fruit and its ripening process, experience, and patience.