At a time not long ago there were three brothers who lived upon the earth. Each of the brothers had a fruit tree, planted especially for him at birth, which he was given to tend and care for throughout his life.
The first brother, as a child, loved his tree and cared for it with affection until, eventually, he grew tired of caring for the tree; and when his friends mocked him and asked him to what purpose was he wasting all his time tending to his little tree, he admitted to them and to himself that he no longer needed it. Nor did he want it. So he left the tree and went off to play with his friends.
The second brother found that caring for his tree was tedious and boring. He had little interest in his tree, but he cared for it because he believed that he should. He gave it sufficient water though he never fertilized it, or gave it any affection. Nevertheless, it grew and eventually became a serviceable tree, if not completely healthy; giving the now middle-aged man shade and protection, although it never produced any fruit.
The third brother cared for his tree as if it were his very soul. He watered it daily, fertilized and pruned it so that it grew to be a beautiful tree, full of foliage and heavy with fruit. From his tree, this brother was able to shelter and sustain himself. He derived great joy in caring for his tree and also in seeing the benefit birds and other animals derived from sheltering in its branches and sharing of its fruit. He dwelt in this way, caring for and sheltering under his tree well into his old age.
One day there came upon the land where the three brothers dwelt a scorching heat and a blistering wind.
The first brother, who had been enjoying his life of experiences and adventures, thought back upon his tree, as he sat in a café of a nearby town. Somehow he missed his tree now. He surveyed the crowded room where he sat and was perplexed and dismayed that he felt empty and alone, even here in the midst of this interesting and engaging group. His life had been about culture, novelty and games, yet now it all was meaningless and he felt a need and a yearning to find his little tree again.
At that moment, the second brother was walking past the café on his way back home from the market. The brothers met on the street and the first told the second that he was returning to his tree to find solace there in his old age. The second wished him good luck but said he too must return to his own tree and prepare to die, because the markets in town had no more food, so he would surely starve.
When the first brother returned to his tree he found that it was hardly more than a stick in the ground. Dried and shriveled leaves lay strewn across the ground below its branches. The fierce sun beat down upon its cracking bark and the wind snapped at its remaining twigs. “I have nothing now” the brother said to himself, “I will go and seek shelter and die with my brother.”
He found his brother sheltering in the shade of his own fruit tree and said, “Brother, please let me join you and also shelter under your tree and wait for death, for the sun has scorched my tree, and without water, the wind has blown all of its leaves to the ground.” The second brother then replied, “I am going to find our other brother, come with me. His tree is enormous now and is full of fruit. We will go and find shelter, as well as food, and live.”
The first two brothers found the third under the shade of his tree, eating its fruit and sharing the bounty of his tree with the birds and the other creatures of the land. “Please let us share of the soft, ripe fruit of your tree, dear brother, for we are old now and cannot eat solid food, and we have nothing else by which to live.”
“All that I have is yours, dear brothers,” he said. “All that my tree produces is for you, and you can live by it as long as God intends. Join me and let us live together in joy.”
The three brothers sat side by side under the shade of the tree and ate until they were full.
Thereafter it came time for the first brother to leave this world and he died. Not long after him the second brother also died and then finally the third.
In the afterlife, the first brother immediately found himself on an icy plain, and surprisingly, there beside him stood the remnant of his small, stickly tree, planted firmly in the ice. It was a cold place with little light and he stood shivering. From the dark corners of this place suddenly arrived many grim and evil creatures, as cold and icy as their surroundings. They descended upon his tree, as a thousand slate black crows, while a solemn voice bemoaned the brother’s lack of attention in his life to the needs of the tree, and his neglect which had stunted its growth and caused it to suffer to the point of death. The blackened creatures demanded heat to warm their cold hearts, they required this of the first brother, so he offered them his tree to use as kindling for their fire, as he cowered in the shadows. But when they lit the tree it was immediately consumed leaving nothing in its place but ashes. The multitude of demons turned on the brother and attacked him, for the dismal tree had left them lukewarm, and unfulfilled. The brother screamed in protest and for fear, as they grabbed and tore at him and lifted him upon their oily shoulders and carried him away. “If you have nothing else to give, dear brother,” they cackled sarcastically, “then we shall make you an ember and a coal, and we shall light you, to keep us warm.”
When the second brother arrived to the place the first brother had just vacated, he also was surprised to find his tree planted firmly beside him in the ice. He grew frightened and sorrowful, for he quickly understood that he had not taken his life seriously, but had only pretended to do so, to the extent that he could make a good impression, and maintain certain appearances. His tree was healthy and in full leaf, but he had never put in the added effort to allow it to flourish or to fruit. The air suddenly filled with the sound of ten thousand wings buzzing and whining, and then he heard a hollow, vacant scream. He was startled to discover that the scream was his own, as the demons landed upon his tree and filled its branches. “Give us heat, give us heat,” they screeched, “give us heat to keep us warm!” The second brother recoiled in horror, as a voice recalled to him the many evil and the many good deeds committed during his life on earth; the attention he gave his tree but also the neglect and its failure to fruit. Finally, the demons demanded their payment and their fire, yet as they lit his tree on fire, he saw a means of escape in the growing light. As his tree became a bonfire and the demons danced with glee, he dove into the flames. He was alight but not consumed and in the midst of the flame he was met by another figure who carried him away into paradise.
The third brother arrived to this place in the branches of his tree, sitting aloft, and untouched by the icy plain far below him at its base. As the voice recounted his virtues and his sins he began to weep. “Your tree was shelter and sustenance not only for yourself but also for your brothers, and all the little creatures in your care,” the voice pronounced as the demons descended and joined the brother as he sat on the branches of the tree. “Yours was a tree of service,” the voice continued, as angels began to appear amidst the branches, bringing light, power and warmth. “You were attentive to your tree, and persevering in your life,” the voice remarked as the brother continued to cry tears of sorrow, tears of fear, and tears of joy. The demons surrounding the brother grew silent, and, in the growing light and warmth radiating from the multitude of angels appearing in the tree, the demons began to recede silently into the shadows and to disappear. A river of tears flowed out from this brother’s eyes, streaming down the trunk of the tree and out across the icy plain, melting it and revealing new life as it went forth. As the light increased from the presence of a thousand, thousand brilliant angels, the last of the darkness fled and all that remained was pure light. “Your tree gave life in the former age as it will continue to do in the age to come. It was a tree of giving and of care; it has now become a tree of life eternal, and herein you shall dwell and live in peace forevermore.”