"When they had all had enough to eat, he said to the disciples,"Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." John 6:12
I've had these scribbled notes in my journal, dated September 3, 2009. I have pages of journal entries that I always think I will return to when I have time to write, or am called to preach again- little glimpses of truth that are clear and bright and typically obscured from my vision by how closely I look at the ground beneath my feet - like a ray of light that briefly penetrates the clouds with it's brilliance, only moments later to retreat behind the gray and ordinary. So why am I sharing this now? Well, my latest journal only made it to the half-way point before the pages separated from the binding and loose leafs have begun to fall. My closest friends know I'm kind of in mourning and struggling against the desire to transcribe the entries to a new journal. And to top off the loss of a journal, it happens to be the one my small group gave me, with personal messages written from each of them. So now I will tuck their word offerings in my Bible, for I read them often and marvel at God's presence and love experienced here on Earth through the gift of others.
I had been reading in John, sitting on my deck under the broad, shady leaves of my fig tree when I realized I was sitting in an analogy - a visual, tactile, sticky-sweet smelling image of what Jesus meant by "let nothing be wasted." Before the fruit of the fig tree ripened sitting beneath these leaves was my favorite place to read - to talk to loved ones on the phone - to laugh with the family over a meal followed by s'mores. I had just read the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, ending with the collection of left-overs. Bread was a gift from God. In Hebrew, the word for bread, lechem, can also mean food in general. Lechem represents not only all food but God's sustenance as a whole. In a Jewish home it was required that what fell on the floor be picked up. Again in Mark 6:43 "They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish." Understanding lechem broadens our understanding that Jesus himself is the deepest sustenance of all. Even today Jewish people believe that bread should never be discarded because doing so shows ingratitude for God's gracious provision.
So what does lechem have to do with a fig tree? Sitting beneath one that is prolifically bearing fruit provides either a great experience in harvesting or a sad reminder of what waste brings. The first three years of a new fig tree there is no fruit. But when the tree bears fruit, with proper care and in the right region, it will produce figs 10 months out of the year. My tree is definitely more than three years old.
Harvesting this tree was not my priority right after our move to DC, nor was it my joy.
Not peaches, or cherries, or plums. Figs. (Which are only good in Newtons, or something someone else has created into yumminess out of a labor of love. That is hypothetical by the way, because I've never tasted anything with a fig in it but a Newton.)
From the moment they ripened and started "plopping" onto my deck they reminded me of little baby birds that had been pushed from the nest. To top it off, as they ripened their skin split and a host of flies and bees feasted on the fruit through the cracks. The flavor was good and the nutritional benefit great, but I had to do some serious mental gymnastics to pop one in my mouth.
Ken liked the figs. I would make an effort to pick some from the tree each day for him, but the rest? Well, the mess on the deck was such a nuisance I hosed the deck off daily with a power sprayer. Figs surfing the deck to the edge, then over to be hidden in the ground cover. Eventually there were so many bees I didn't climb into the tree to pluck the daily few for Ken. I was too afraid of being stung.
But sitting under this tree I caught that glimpse of truth God offered. How often did I choose not to harvest the fruit of God's labor because I didn't like the way it looked? In more relational terms - how often did I walk past a person because they reminded me of someone else? Because they needed me more than I was willing to give of myself? Because they smelled?
The sweetness of figs begins to stink.
An unharvested tree brings flies. Hundreds of them.
There are bees.
I've learned some things from my fig tree, not from the satisfaction of a job well-done, but from the sadness of witnessing waste. Harvesting is hard work. And where did I get the idea that harvesting is only worth doing if it's something that I like, or want, or benefits me? Harvesting will mean I get stung a few times. I've lived to survive the stings of misunderstandings, unforgiveness, selfishness, false accusations - those I've meted out and those I've received. In the grand scheme of things, getting stung is a minor nuisance.
In God's economy there is no waste. Even the pieces are gathered, that nothing be wasted. I must judge my attitudes and actions towards others, careful to offer words of encouragement, love, and hope - the tools of the harvester who is reaping the fruit of God's labor.
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to this disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Matthew 9:36-38
The workers are not volunteers showing up to do good works they think will help God. They are chosen, authorized, and sent by God through Christ. "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers..." I continue to examine my heart, that God will find me willing to take on the tasks he offers. No quibbling. No bartering for different hours or a new place on the line. Simply joyful to be given a job at all.
Let no people be wasted.
"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's buildings." 1 Cor 3:7-9
Blessings, Favored One