The story is told that years ago, when the communists began to take control of Russia, a Communist party official came to a Russian village to seek to convert its residents there to Communism. He challenged the Russian Orthodox priest there to a debate. He figured he could easily crush this frail old priest in a debate.
The whole town gathered for this debate. He so eloquently argued the benefits of Communism that many of the people there were nodding in approval. With great satisfaction, he smugly sat down, gesturing the priest to speak. The priest stood up at the podium and said simply: “Christ is risen!” The people there then passionately exclaimed as with one voice: “He is risen indeed.”
Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered….God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:6-11
The word microcosm, literally means, “little world.” A garden is a microcosm – a little world which often poignantly illustrates spiritual truths. Perhaps this is why Jesus often taught about life in the Kingdom of God using parables from gardening. My own gardening ritual is predictable – it begins by checking on my vines: my watermelon and my pumpkins. I find great joy watching these vines grow and flower and produce. They are the first things I check in the morning and the last things I check in the evening. Of all the growing things in our garden, these bring me the greatest pleasure. Yet, just as Adam and Eve had pestilence stalking in their garden, so do I – squash bugs, the mortal enemies of my beloved pumpkin vines, and so my own mortal enemies as well. They are the most resilient of pests, impervious to the most malevolent schemes we can devise. Melanie and I have asked around, we have researched on the internet; we have tried remedies both folk and chemical to eradicate these pests. Finally, they are starting to dwindle and to my great delight I found a volunteer pumpkin growing hidden among my sweet potato vines. And as I rejoiced in my seeming triumph over the insidious squash bug, a strange scripture came to my mind – “do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
Remember how angry Jonah was when the Lord sent a pest to destroy his beloved vine? God’s indictment of Jonah was searing – literally! He had loved a vine more than he had loved the lost! He had more care and concern over a vine, than for men and women, boys and girls perishing without hope and without Christ. Then the question came to mind – am I as sorrowful over the destruction of the lost as I am over the destruction of my pumpkin vines? What about you? What daily inconveniences, what annoying trifles, give you more grief than the fact that your neighbor’s life is in the relentless grip of sin and desolation? The next time you are in your own garden and you behold the desolation of the squash bug or the corn worm or the scorching heat – remember your neighbor and commit to pray for him, to love him as yourself, and to share the good news of Jesus Christ.