Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A dresser of sycamores? plus Q&A

I'm afraid that sometimes, when I'm reading scripture, I get so curious about some minor, obscure  verse that I can barely pay attention to the rest of the reading. Such was the case today with the reading from Amos in the Office of Readings. Amos was explaining that he wasn't prophesying as some sort of career prophet, but only obeying God's orders. He describes himself as "a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores."

Screeech! That's the sound of my brain applying the brakes to meditation and turning around to head in the direction of mere curiosity. A dresser of sycamores? Sycamores need dressing?  The sycamores I know are at best ornamentals. They are frequently chosen as trees with which to line streets because they are  hardy and put down deep, rather than sprawling roots. They also have very interesting, patchy bark:
photo credit www.etsu.edu

In short, although sycamores are very nice trees, they do not appear to be subjects for dressing. ( They do make great climbing trees, so I totally get Zaccheus making use of one, but that is another story.)

So, I did a little googling and learned that the middle eastern sycamore is a different species. A relative of the mulberry, it produced a small fruit known as the "poor man's fig". These sycamore fruits are slow to ripen. Apparently both the ripening speed and the taste  is improved if the fruit is pierced during a certain stage of its growth. So that is what Amos did as a sideline when not tending sheep. Here is a picture of the fruit.

Anyway,poking holes in fruit does indeed sound like a lowly job, clearly establishing Amos as not one of those "inside the beltway" prophets. 

And I'm sure St. Augustine or one of the Fathers would comment that the piercing of the sycamore fruit to make it ripen is a type of either Christ's redeeming death, and/or the purpose of suffering in His Mystical Body, the Church.

While I'm here, we'll make this our Q&A post. Any and all breviary-related confusion can be dealt with in the comments sections below. Ask away.