The apostle Paul wrote the book “Romans” in about 57 A.D. It was written as a letter to the Roman Church from Corinth, Greece. Likely Phoebe carried the letter from Corinth to Rome (Romans 16:1-2). The theme of Romans is the revelation of God’s judging and saving righteousness through Christ. In Chapter 14, Paul called for mutual acceptance between weak and strong Christians. Weak Christians felt that in order to remain close to God, they should eat some foods, e.g., vegetables, while abstaining from others, e.g. meat. In contrast, strong Christians accepted that what they ate was independent of their saving relationship with Christ.
Many of us cannot relate to how or why eating vegetables versus meat was so important to the Roman church. Today, a parallel is Christians who believe that drinking alcohol hinders their walk with Christ while other Christians believe that drinking alcohol in moderation is consistent with the Christian life.
In the first four verses of Romans 14, Paul provided three principles for Christians and Christian churches to live by:
Principle 1: We should welcome weaker Christians into our churches; but not for the purpose of disputing or arguing with them over their opinions. We should welcome them because they are fellow believers.
Principle 2: In the Christian church there must be mutual forbearance. The mature (strong) Christian must not despise his weak brother. Similarly, neither should a weak brother judge as a sinner a Christian who enjoys meat, e.g., ham, beef. God has received both groups of Christians into his family; both groups are members in good standing.
Principle 3: Each believer is a servant of the Lord; God is their master. God, the master of all Christians, will sustain those on both sides of the issue of what to eat.
At the beginning of the first millennium in Rome, most Christians were slaves or from the very poor class (plebeians). Their foods were simple and consisted of grains, vegetables, and fish; fish was often a luxury. Examples of vegetables included cabbage, cucumbers, leeks, lettuce, melons, onions, and pumpkins. Watermelon was a common vegetable found in both Rome and Palestine and will be used as an example of a vegetable.
The species name of watermelon is Citrullus lanatus, previously known as Citrullus vulgaris. Watermelons were indigenous to tropical Africa. Pictures of the watermelon were included in Egyptian pyramid paintings from 2000 B.C. Watermelon seeds were found in Iron Age deposits near the Dead Sea and at Arad, Israel.
What better plant to symbolize grace than the watermelon which supplied both water and food to the early Church? Grace is unmerited divine assistance that God gives humans for their regeneration or sanctification. Grace occurred through Christ giving his body and blood for the Church. The water of the melon reminds us of God’s blood and the pulp of his body given up for us. The poorest people in the early Church were sustained by watermelons.
Reflection: Christians today would all be impoverished without Christ’s grace.
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copyright: May 2014, Carolyn A. Roth