Endangered apple varieties – even the sour ones – are being preserved for the good of all apples. Jesus knew the same thing about people: Every person is unique. Every person is valuable.
Jesus speaks about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and even a lost son (Luke 15).
But not a lost apple.
Maybe he should have. Lost apples are hot right now, because they contain important genetic material and can be used to breed other apples. Apples were brought to America by the early colonists and were grown for a variety of important purposes, but many were lost over the years. Although there were once at least 17,000 named varieties grown here, today there are just 5,000.
According to Modern Farmer Magazine, about 12,000 varieties of apples are in danger of being lost.
In search of these nearly extinct apple varieties is The Lost Apple Project. According to Modern Farmer magazine, this nonprofit organization has found twenty-three lost or nearly extinct apple varieties since 2014. In particular, they seek to identify and preserve apple trees that were planted before 1920 in the Pacific Northwest.
These antique apples have very cool names: Excelsior, Streaked Pippin, Sary Sinap, Nero. These varieties cannot be found in the fruit section of your local store, and they are in danger of disappearing.
So, who runs The Lost Apple Project? One of the founders is a former FBI agent and IRS investigator named Dave Benscoter. “The history these old apple trees have is just incredible,” he says. Since he began the painstaking work of apple hunting, he has gained a deeper understanding of how tough life was for people back when apples were first introduced to America. “The truth of the matter is these apples saved [the] lives of pioneers,” he says. “The apple was by far the single most important thing you could grow; it had so many uses.”
The importance of these apples might make you wonder why they came close to extinction. The fact is some don’t taste very good. Many were so bitter or sour that they could be used only to make hard cider. Others are hard to grow, so commercial growers aren’t interested in cultivating them.
But still, they have value. Each apple has a unique genetic makeup, which can add to the diversity of the apple population. They can be used to breed other apples to help them grow better in various climates and conditions. “Genetic diversity is part of sustainability,” says Ben Gutierrez, the curator of the USDA’s National Apple Collection. “Each apple discovered carries a legacy, interesting genetics, and a unique story. Like people, every apple is unique.”
Jesus knew this: Every person is unique. Every person is valuable. And like apples, everyone is worth preserving, for the good of all.
The very beginning of the ministry of Jesus was a smashing success, as he traveled to Galilee and began to teach in the synagogues. Luke tells us that he was “filled with the power of the Spirit” and “was praised by everyone” (4:14-15).
Yes, by everyone. He was the kind of teacher that you wanted to give a big red apple.
Then he entered his hometown of Nazareth and went to the synagogue. On the Sabbath, he read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, in particular the section that says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor … release to the captives … recovery of sight to the blind” (v. 18).
After reading, Jesus sat down. His townspeople looked at him, trying to figure him out. Then he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21).
The people were impressed. Everyone said nice words about him and were amazed at his gracious speech. They asked, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22). Jesus had incredible public speaking ability for a man who was the son of a carpenter.
But Jesus wasn’t content to soak up their admiration. He knew that he needed to speak the truth, even if it was a hard truth. So, he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (vv. 23-24).
Suddenly, the words of Jesus went from sweet to sour. When Jesus quoted the proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself,” the word “yourself” was probably referring to Nazareth. He expected that the people would want him, the Doctor, to heal them, the people of his hometown. He went on to predict that they would ask him to do in his hometown the great things that they had heard him do in the town of Capernaum. And he concluded by saying that they would probably reject him, because “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
The apple that Jesus held up to them was not a Red Delicious. Instead, it was more of a sour green one.
Then Jesus embarked on his own Lost Apple Project, turning away from the people of Israel, and looking for some valuable varieties elsewhere. “But the truth is,” he said to them, “there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon” (vv. 25-26).
The people of Nazareth knew that story, but they didn’t like it. In a time of drought and famine, the widows of Israel were suffering terribly. But God sent the prophet Elijah to a foreign town, Zarephath in Sidon, to help a widow there. Elijah raised her son from death, inspiring her to say, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).
Jesus found the lost apple called Widow of Zarephath and discovered in her a powerful statement of faith.
Then Jesus said, “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27). The people of Nazareth knew that story as well, and they didn’t care for it at all. Naaman was a foreign army commander who followed the instructions of Elisha the prophet, and when he obeyed Elisha, he was healed of his leprosy.
Jesus found the lost apple called Naaman the Syrian and saw in him true obedience to a prophet of God.
At this point, the people of the synagogue could stand no more. They were content with the 5,000 varieties of apples known to them, and these hidden varieties seemed worthless to them. Luke tells us that the people were “filled with rage” toward Jesus.
“They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff” (vv. 28-29). It looked as though the public ministry of Jesus was going to end as quickly as it had started.
But God was not finished with him. Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (v. 30).
Jesus walked away from Nazareth and continued his Lost Apple Project by helping a man with an unclean spirit, healing the mother-in-law of Simon, cleansing a leper, healing a paralytic, and calling a tax collector named Levi to follow him (Luke 4 and 5). Jesus believed that every person was unique, every person was valuable, and every person was worth preserving, for the good of all.
Even nearly extinct varieties such as Widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian.
If you wonder about how central this project was to the ministry of Jesus, just fast-forward to the 19th chapter of the gospel of Luke. There, he is passing through Jericho and sees the tax collector named Zacchaeus, up in a tree. After inviting himself to stay at the house of the sour apple named Zacchaeus, Jesus says, “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (19:10).
That’s the Lost Apple Project, according to Jesus: “to seek out and to save the lost.” He knew that there was valuable material in Zacchaeus that needed to be found and preserved. His story has continued to build up the Christian community since the day it was first told by Luke.
So, who are the apples that need to be found and preserved, for the good of all?
Start with yourself. If you are feeling like you are up in a tree, stressed or distressed as you face a difficult situation, let Jesus find you.
He wants to touch you, forgive you, heal you, and guide you. To be lost does not mean that you are doomed; it simply means that you are in the wrong place. You are not beyond his reach, and he truly wants you to be part of his beloved community.
Next, look around yourself. Who is the Widow of Zarephath who needs your attention? This weekend, across the ELCA, is “Reconciling In Christ” weekend with the theme, “Made in God’s image: God’s boundless diversity.” We affirm Divinity’s mission statement of being “a people and place of hope, healing, and welcome” for all of God’s children no matter our sexual orientation. There are so many people around us who are living in loneliness and isolation, ready to give up as they face the challenges of the day. Be the hands of Jesus to them and offer them your assistance. Be the heart of Jesus for them and show them the unconditional love of God. And don’t hesitate to tell them about the Christian faith that motivates you.
Finally, widen your vision and look for the power of God to be at work in surprising places. Expect to see Naaman the Syrian healed. Continue to support our ministries – The Men’s Lakeside Homeless Shelter, The Redeemer Crisis Center, our Afghan refugees, our Parma Park families in need, our Divinity Food Pantry, and our ELCA Hunger Appeal and Disaster Response to make our community and world a better place.
Remember that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He wants to preserve everyone, for the good of all.