The Parable of the Orange Tree

imagesI dreamed I drove on a Florida road, still and straight and empty. On either side were groves of orange trees, so that as I turned to look at them from time to time, line after line of trees stretched back endlessly from the road – their boughs heavy with round yellow fruit. This was harvest time. My wonder grew as the miles slipped by. How could the harvest be gathered? Suddenly I realized that for all the hours I had driven (and this was how I knew I must be dreaming) I had seen no other person. The groves were empty of people. No other car had passed me. No houses were to be seen beside the highway. I was alone in a forest of orange trees. But at last I saw some orange pickers. Far from the highway, almost on the horizon, lost in the vast wilderness of unpicked fruit, I could discern a tiny group of them working steadily. And many miles later I saw another group. I could not be sure, but I suspected that the earth beneath me was shaking with silent laughter at the hopelessness of their task, yet the pickers went on picking. The sun had long passed its zenith, and the shadows were lengthening when, without any warning, I turned a corner of the road to see a notice “Leaving NEGLECTED COUNTY – Entering HOME COUNTY.” The contrast was so startling that I scarcely had time to take in the notice. I had to slow down, for all at once the traffic was heavy. People by the thousands swarmed the road and crowded the sidewalks.

Even more startling was the transformation in the orange groves. Orange groves were still there, and orange trees in abundance, but now, far from being silent and empty, they were filled with the laughter and singing of multitudes of people. Indeed it was the people we noticed rather than the trees. People and houses. I parked the car at the roadside and mingled with the crowd. Smart gowns, neat shoes, showy hats, expensive suits and starched shirts made me a little conscious of my work clothes. Everyone seemed so fresh, and poised, and gay.

“Is it a holiday?” I asked a well-dressed woman with whom I fell in step. She looked a little startled for a moment, and then her face relaxed with a smile of gracious condescension. “You’re a stranger, aren’t you?” she said, and before I could reply, “This is Orange Day.” She must have seen a puzzled look on my face, for she went on, “It is so good to turn aside from one’s labors and pick oranges one day of the week.” But don’t you pick oranges every day?” I asked her. “One may pick oranges at any time,” she said. “We should always be ready to pick oranges, but Orange Day is the day that we devote especially to orange picking.” I left her and made my way further into the trees. Most of the people were carrying a book. Bound beautifully in leather, and edged and lettered in gold, I was able to discern on the edge of one of them the words, “Orange Picker’s Manual.”

By and by I noticed around one of the orange trees seats had been arranged, rising upward in tiers from the ground. The seats were almost full – but, as I approached the group, a smiling well-dressed gentleman shook my hand and conducted me to a seat. There, around the foot of the orange tree, I could see a number of people. One of them was addressing all the people on the seats and, just as I got to my seat, everyone rose to his feet and began to sing. The man next to me shared with me his songbook. It was called “Songs of the Orange Groves.” They sang for some time, and the song leader waved his arms with a strange and frenzied abandon, exhorting the people in the intervals between the songs to sing more loudly.

I grew steadily more puzzled. “When do we start to pick oranges?” I asked the man who had loaned me his book. “It’s not long now,” he told me. “We like to get everyone warmed up first. Besides, we want to make the oranges feel at home.” I thought he was joking, but his face was serious. After a while a rather fat man took over from the song leader and, after reading two sentences from his well- thumbed copy of the Orange Picker’s Manual, began to make a speech. It wasn’t clear whether he was addressing the people or the oranges. I glanced behind me and saw a number of groups of people similar to our own group gathering around an occasional tree and being addressed by other fat men. Some of the trees had no one around them. “Which trees do we pick from?” I asked the man beside me. He did not seem to understand, so I pointed to the trees round about. “This is our tree,” he said, pointing to the one we were gathered around. “But there are too many of us to pick from just one tree.” I protested. “Why, there are more people than oranges!” “But we don’t pick oranges,” the man explained. “We haven’t been called. That’s the Pastor Orange Picker’s job.

We’re here to support him. Besides we haven’t been to college. You need to know how an orange thinks before you can pick it successfully – orange psychology, you know. Most of these folks here,” he went on, pointing to the congregation, “have never been to Manual School.” “Manual School,” I whispered. “What’s that?” “It’s where they go to study the Orange Picker’s Manual,” my informant went on. “It’s very hard to understand. You need years of study before it makes sense.” “I see,” I murmured. “I had no idea that picking oranges was so difficult.” The fat man at the front was still making his speech. His face was red, and he appeared to be indignant about something. So far as I could see there was rivalry with some of the other “orange picking” groups, but a moment later a glow came on his face.

“But we are not forsaken,” he said. “We have much to be thankful for. Last week we saw THREE ORANGES BROUGHT INTO OUR BASKETS, and we are now completely debt-free from the money we owed on the new cushion covers that grace the seats you now sit on.” “Isn’t it wonderful?” the man next to me murmured. I made no reply. I felt that something must be profoundly wrong somewhere. All this seemed to be a very round-about way of picking oranges. The fat man was reaching a climax in his speech. The atmosphere seemed tense. Then with a very dramatic gesture he reached two of the oranges, plucked them from the branch, and placed them in the basket at his feet. The applause was deafening.

“Do we start on the picking now?” I asked my informant. “What in the world do you think we’re doing?” he hissed. “What do you suppose this tremendous effort has been made for? There’s more orange-picking talent in this group than in the rest of Home County. Thousands of dollars have been spent on the tree you’re looking at.” I apologized quickly. “I wasn’t being critical,” I said. “And I’m sure the fat man must be a very good orange picker – but surely the rest of us could try. After all, there are so many oranges that need picking. We’ve all got a pair of hands, and we could read the Manual.” “When you’ve been in the business as long as I have, you’ll realize that it’s not as simple as that,” he replied. “There isn’t time, for one thing. We have our work to do, our families to care for, and our homes to look after, We…” But I wasn’t listening. Light was beginning to break on me. Whatever these people were, they were not orange pickers. Orange picking was just a form of entertainment for their week- ends. I tried one or two more of the groups around the trees; not all of them had such high academic standards for orange pickers. Some held classes on orange picking. I tried to tell them of the trees I had seen in Neglected County, but they seemed to have little interest. “We haven’t picked the oranges here yet,” was their usual reply.

The sun was almost setting in my dream and, growing tired of the noise and activity all around me, I got in the car and began to drive again along the road I had come. Soon all around me again were the vast and empty orange groves. But there were changes. Something had happened in my absence. Everywhere the ground was littered with fallen fruit, and as I watched, it seemed that before my eyes the trees began to rain oranges. Many of them lay rotting on the ground. I felt there was something so strange about it all, and my bewilderment grew as I thought of all the people in Home County. Then, booming through the trees there came a voice which said, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers…” And then I awakened – for it was only a dream!

By Dr. John White

The Defender of Widows and Orphans

resurrection11Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 14Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:11-16).

Widows and orphans have always been people that God has given special care and compassion.  His heart goes out to them in their need. It is a cruel world for those who are unmarried and have children, they are amongst the most needy in our society and even more so in the Middle East where there is no Social Security or insurance plan for the unemployed.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling (Psalm 68:5).

Let’s try and get a picture in our minds of the scene in front of us.  We are told in Luke 7:11 that a large crowd of people were following the disciples. Just as they were approaching the town gate they were confronted with the funeral procession. Normally there would be a band of professional mourners at the head, with their flutes and cymbals uttering their shrill cries of grief, followed by those that were carrying the boy in the coffin.  When we think of a coffin we think of a wooden box but this was more than likely a long wickerwork basket used for carrying the body to the grave. 

I find it amazing that we don’t see the widow asking for a miracle, Jesus undertakes without a request from her. Author Ken Gire says: “It is a miracle done without human prompting.  Without thought of lessons to be taught to the disciples. Without thought of deity to be demonstrated to the skeptics.  It is a miracle drawn solely from the well of divine compassion.  So free the water.  So pure the heart from which it is drawn.  So tender the hand that cups it and brings it to this bereaved mother’s lips.” We are most like our Lord when we can step into the shoes of those who are poor and hurting with hearts of compassion, longing to do what we can to alleviate their pain and need.

There are some situations that God does not require faith before He moves, He acts out of His own compassion, grace and mercy.  I find it refreshing to know that even when I am at low ebb spiritually that He will move on my behalf outside of His requirement for expressions of faith. Jesus was not worried about being ritually unclean as he stepped forward and touched the coffin. People are what matter to Him. There is a higher law at work, the law of love and compassion.

His heart, we are told, went out to her. He said, “Don’t cry.” He felt her pain. When any of His people are hurting He feels their pain. Turning to the boy, he said, Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15The dead man sat up and began to talk. We are told that there was an awe that filled them, astonishment at such a thing.  This awe was awareness that God indeed was visiting His people, How could this be! This man was dead! Imagine the praise that went up, verse 16, as relatives and the mother herself received her son back from the dead.  Imagine what pain there would be in losing your only son and then the joy of holding the one you already had to release to death.

“God has come to help His people!” (verse 16).

According to the gospel writers, every funeral that Jesus went to He raised up the dead person! There was Lazarus in John 11, the Centurions servant in Luke 7:1-10, and then Jairus’ daughter was also raised from the dead in Luke 8:40-56. Alfred Edersheim in his book “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” tells us that the Jews believed that there would be three evidences in the ministry of the Messiah, He would cleanse lepers, heal the blind and raise the dead.  Are you convinced yet that this is indeed the Messiah? God has come to help His people!

Keith Thomas

Thy Sea is so Great and My Boat so Small

breton plaque-mo 634861jpgHave you ever had a brush with death? In my early years as a commercial fisherman I worked with my father on his boat. It was winter time and for a time we were working out of the port of Boston in Lincolnshire, England, several hours north of our home port of Harwich, Essex. As we set our course South for home, my dad was on first watch and he steered for the first four hours or so. It was past midnight when he handed the helm over to as it was his turn to sleep. He told me that before I came up to the two sandbanks off of the town of Lowestoft that ran parallel with the coast, the Outer and Inner Scroby Sands, he wanted me to go close to the shore to escape the tide that would turn and be against us by that time. That way we would increase our speed if we were not going against so much tide.

We were following another fishing boat that we regularly worked with that was about two miles ahead of us. All I could see of the boat ahead was his stern (rear) light, a single white colored light. When I came up to the Scroby Sands, the Outer and Inner banks, I reasoned to myself that I could just follow the other boat that was going in between the two sandbanks that ran parallel to the coast instead of following my father’s instructions. There was a force 9 gale blowing at the time, so our boat was being buffeted badly with the waves breaking over the boat, diminishing my visibility. I was afraid that if I heeded the words of my father and stayed close to the shore, I would run into the pier at Lowestoft that I knew stuck out a few hundred yards. I reasoned that my dad would sleep for a few hours yet and wouldn’t even know that I had disobeyed his instructions. I decided to follow the light of the other boat through the channel in between the sands just like the other boat and ignore the voice of my father.

What I didn’t realize was that after the other boat had gone through the sands, he had turned his course and was now heading inshore to escape the worst of the tide. Due to following others instead of listening to my father’s word, I was now headed on a different course that would take me on a collision course toward the Inner Scroby Sands. Our boat hit the sandbank in total darkness at full speed in winter with a force 9 severe gale blowing.

My dad woke with a start as the keel (the bottom of the boat) went up on the sand and was stuck fast on the sand. Worst of all, the tide was going down and every minute our chance of survival grew slim. My dad told me to put the engine in reverse and give maximum thrust on the engine in the hope of getting off the sand before we keeled over. With only one keel the boat would roll over as the tide went down. As I put the engine in reverse and gave maximum revolutions on the engine, the boat leaned over and nearly capsized. In fear, I took the engine out of gear resulting in the boat becoming stable again. Dad said, “Do it, son!”

Again, I put the gear stick in reverse and pulled back on the throttle. The boat leaned over again as things fell off the side of the wheelhouse while I tried to maintain my balance. In terror that we were about to die, I pulled the gear stick into neutral. My dad said, “Let me have the controls, son.” I gladly got out of the way and let my dad take over the steering wheel and throttle. I was just a young Christian at the time and knew enough to pray. We were three miles off the coast, and if the boat went over, I knew we would die—we carried no life vests and no life raft and I could barely swim. We would not be found in the dark and the cold water would give us barely minutes before hypothermia would set in. I began praying like there was no tomorrow, and tomorrow seemed very distant suddenly as my father took the controls and went full throttle in reverse. The boat nearly went over again as I prayed for God to help us. There was a big bump and then two or three more as the back end of the keel dug into the sand and slowly slipped off of the sands. A huge sigh of relief flooded my soul as I thanked God for His deliverance. As we got back onto course and the danger subsided, God spoke to me very clearly saying, “If you would only listen to your Father’s voice, you would be safe.” Sometimes God speaks to us on two levels, and this was one of those times. I knew He was referring to my relationship with Him. My problem came about because I didn’t listen to my father’s voice.  When the situation looks bleak, hear His voice saying, “Don’t be afraid. Just trust me, let me steer your vessel.” Can I encourage you to not follow others on your course of life, but to listen to your heavenly Father’s voice speaking from the scriptures.

Keith Thomas

Touching the Untouchable

jesus_leper12While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 15Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:12-16).

There were two kinds of Leprosy in Jesus’ day. One that was rather like a very bad skin disease, while the other was a disease that started from a small spot and ate away the flesh until the wretched sufferer was left with only the stump of a hand or a leg. It was literally a living death.

The man in our passage was covered with Leprosy (verse 12). The Book of Leviticus gave very specific instructions about various skin diseases, Leprosy being one of them. Lepers could not live inside the town, obviously that meant that they could not go to synagogue or the Temple. They were outcasts of society. The leper was to cry “Unclean! Unclean!” wherever he went: he was to dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). They had to carry a bell everywhere they went and if anyone should come within 50 yards of them they had to ring a warning to them. Leprosy was a contagious disease.

Dr A. B. Macdonald, in an article on the leper colony in Itu, of which he was in charge, wrote, “The leper is sick in mind as well as body. For some reason there is an attitude to leprosy different from the attitude to any other disfiguring disease. It is associated with shame and horror, and carries, in some mysterious way, a sense of guilt, although innocently acquired like most contagious skin diseases. Shunned and despised, frequently lepers consider taking their own lives and some do.” Often the leper came to hate himself. That is the kind of man who came to Jesus; he was unclean and Jesus touched him. It doesn’t seem as if this man came with anyone else if he was part of a leper colony. Somehow he heard of Jesus and sought Him out.

We are told that without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). The leper had the faith to go in search of Jesus. The passage tells us, “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy (verse 12). He risked being stoned for being in the town. It was evident to all he was a leper because he “was covered with leprosy.” There seems to be a courage born of desperation that brings him to Jesus. There is a humility in the leper for he casts himself on the ground, and with his face in the dirt, proclaims his words of faith, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.” There is no doubt in his heart that Jesus can do this. If there is any doubt at all it seems to be about the willingness of a Rabbi to even associate with him. He knew Jesus to be a holy man and was afraid to cause him to be unclean by being near Him, but his was a courage born of desperation. To come into contact with a leper would demand that anyone wash his clothes and be ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day. There seems to be no hesitation in Jesus. He is willing to heal. How long had it been since this leper had been touched? I wonder if he was moved in his spirit at the touch of Jesus. He felt Jesus’ compassion and love! I believe that we would all have wept if we had seen this untouchable being touched with the love of God.

Compassion is a quality sorely in need today. If we want to be like Jesus, we have to reach out beyond ourselves to those He loves and wants to touch. Jesus told him to go and show himself to the priest so that he would be inspected and having been found clean, would be able to be brought into the community of the faithful. Love the unlovely, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

Keith Thomas

 

The Kindness and Grace of our Savior

Healing-Touch27She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched the fringe of his robe. 28For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his clothing, I will be healed.” 29Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel that she had been healed! (Mark 5:27-29).

How wonderful it is that God responds to faith. This woman’s faith was born out of desperation. Matthew in his gospel (v.9:20) tells us that she had internal bleeding for 12 years. What would it have been like to be in her situation? Her condition was one where it was illegal for her to be in a public place, for fear of contaminating anyone else. Leviticus 15:25 says “When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.” She would never have been able to enter Church or fellowship with others. Her condition excluded her from the social structure of the day. Mark further tells us that she had spent her all on the doctors (Mark 5:26) and was no better but rather grew worse. This poor woman was completely broke and more than likely had not slept in a bed for some time, what hotel would have her! What friend would let her stay at their house, everything she touched would be ceremonially unclean.

How scared she must have been as she was mingling with the crowd trying not to be seen and recognized, desperately trying to reach Jesus, her only hope. She was desperate. Mark goes on to say that when she touched him and was instantly healed, Jesus asked “who touched me?” (v.31). Her response was one of fear, she “fell at his feet, and trembling with fear,” (v.33) told him of her illegal act of touching a rabbi. Why would she be trembling? She took a huge risk. Jesus is well known as a Rabbi in whom is the Spirit of God. She would have thought that she would contaminate him with her own uncleanness and render him not able to heal the Ruler of the Synagogue’s daughter. I am sure that she expected to be severely told off.

I love Him for His response to her, “daughter your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Her history over the last 12 years of having this condition was one of rejection by people. How beautiful to see grace, acceptance, understanding and joy in the face of our Savior. Doesn’t grace and kindness win your heart? Hasn’t He been like that with you? I long to be accepting of the poor and hurting like Him.

Prayer: Oh God, make me more like Jesus, full of grace and truth.

Keith Thomas