On the first day of October, I stood on a ladder amid the loaded branches of our churchyard apple tree and picked every last piece of fruit.
I’ve never seen that tree produce the way it has this year, and from the fierce August windstorm that dropped a bunch on the ground right through the various September pickings until that glorious day, the abundant harvest has been shared with many hands and stomachs.
So it was that when the Lord created at the beginning, trees were planted which contain seeds within their fruits (Genesis 1:12).
When it comes to apples, the first person who comes to mind is usually Johnny Appleseed—John Chapman (1774-1845).
Most, I’d say, conjure up an image of him as a joyful roving vagabond who spread the fruit far and wide, but there are a few things about him that might be unknown or come as a surprise.
As a simple-living wandering apple nurseryman who started orchards on land that could be cultivated and settled, he astonishingly owned 1,200 acres at the time of his death.
But it was the ordinary actions of his life that made the biggest impact on others.
Known for his extreme generosity, he gave seedlings to those who couldn’t afford to purchase them, and even gave away his only pair of shoes one winter to a man in need.
Yet some of his ways were unsettling, such as scolding a woman he saw throwing away food for “a violation of the gifts of a merciful God” and asserting that grafting rootstock on trees was a trespass of the Creator’s work.
Johnny’s celebrated apples, grown from seed, were unsuitable for eating and used mostly for cider and apple jack.
He carried a Bible with him wherever he went, and whoever took him in for the night usually heard him read the words he lived by in the Sermon on the Mount, especially noting Jesus’ words, “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit … so you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:17, 20).
There’s a lot to learn and emulate from Johnny’s life, which I suggest points strongly toward Jesus’ example of grace: the image of a fig tree which bore no fruit and would have been cut down by the owner, were it not for the farmer who begged for one more year and the chance to see if cultivating and manuring the soil made any difference (Luke 13:6-9).
Sometimes we can look at our lives or the lives of others and see nothing good or fruitful in them, but might very well miss that Jesus, our rescuing and restoring Lord, is working the soil so intensely that barrenness is replaced by abundant fruitfulness.
After all, one of the final images of the Bible is the tree of life, no longer barricaded from people but openly accessible with a different kind of fruit for each month of the year and its leaves for the healing of all people (Revelation 22:2).
So it is, Psalm 1 says, that the one who dwells on the words and ways of the Lord is like a vibrant leafy tree, planted by streams of water, which brings forth its fruit in season.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) is attributed with saying, “If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.”
That’s a hopeful and healing way to live.
And along with it, we can do little better than sing with Johnny Appleseed: “Oh, the Lord is good to me, / And so I thank the Lord, / For giving me the things I need, / The sun, and the rain, and the appleseed, / The Lord is good to me.”
So, here’s to gracious and abundant harvests, especially after sparse or barren times.
May you know the cultivating and restoring work of Christ in your life and place of living.