A beautiful Fuji apple, my favourite variety, had been on my desk all day and I was anticipating the sweet succulent taste of that apple. When finally the moment came, I picked it up and took one huge bite — of disappointment. That glowing red apple was rotten at the core, an inedible superficial beauty!
Tossing it aside with a small ‘curse’ and no small measure of annoyance, I remembered that enigmatic story in the gospels, when Jesus and his hungry disciples approached a beautiful fig tree only to find it completely fig-less.1 Beautiful but barren! Even though it was not yet the season for figs, there should have been at least some budding evidence of fruit to come—yet the tree was producing nothing but leaves.
Jesus cursed that disappointing tree and journeyed on to visit the temple in Jerusalem. What he encountered upon entering the temple courts was infinitely more disappointing than a fruitless fig tree. The place was humming with people and activity, but instead of finding the spiritual fruits of worship and true devotion to God, Jesus found merely a flourishing religious marketplace.2
Recently I heard an interview on a Christian radio station – “It is about surrendering to the truth – these men know they don’t deserve forgiveness, they don’t deserve to live.” The interviewee went on to tell the amazing story of killers being totally transformed by the grace and mercy of God – forgiven. “Now on their own free will they are doing something good with their hands, helping to build homes for their victims, the survivors.”3
“And now we’ll take a short break with a message from our sponsors,” interrupted the radio host. “We’ll be right back after this.”
“Dermitage! Look Years Younger with Dermitage! Guaranteed Results Fast! Free Trial!”
I could hardly believe my ears – I had just been listening to a man baring his soul and sharing the amazing fruits of faith — God’s transforming power and reconciling love radically changing men from the inside out — and in the very next moment I find my attention being side-tracked to the seductive allure, the importance of recovering my youthful appearance. “What is going on here? How can they possibly do this? The seductive allure of looking good!” I muttered to myself with a little ‘curse’ – is anybody paying attention to the story?
This morning I read a news report about Thomas Pauli, a homeless ex-prisoner and sex offender who froze to death on Friday night because nobody would give him shelter for the night.4 He froze to death in a city with an abundance of churches and Christian ministries, in a city that prides itself in its picturesque beauty and its hospitality and boasts that its “climate controlled skywalk and heated sidewalks will connect you to where you need to go!”5
It’s tragic but true. The curse of our age is that we often tend to settle for appearances even as people hunger for the substance of the hope and love and grace we espouse. To follow Jesus is about being fruitful in the good works of faith, and not about keeping up appearances of faith.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? … You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Ron W. Nikkel is the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI). For more information, visit the PFI website.