Category Archives: Plants in Christ’ Ministry in Perea & Judea

Reputation of Fruit

Bible Reference:  Matthew 7.15-20.

This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV). Jesus began with “Watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7.15 NIV). Then, he told hearers the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolves that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit—by looking at both their words and  actions. Just as a man can’t pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. False prophets could appear humble and mild like Jesus, or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist; yet, their words are filled with lies.

When Jesus compared words of false prophets to thistles, he was teaching in Galilee. Primarily, his listeners were from rural areas and small towns. They had experience growing and picking figs and grapes. They knew about productive and non-productive trees and plants, including thistles. They were well aware that thistles could be attractive to the eye, but had little value.

The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7.15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle grows in Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast, to the northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that replaces pasture lands and displaces forage for livestock. The plant’s sharp spines impede recreational use and restrict access by wildlife. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothes.

Jesus told followers that both plants and prophets could be recognized by what they produce. When we recognize someone, we are familiar with them, distinguish them from others, and comprehend what they do and say. God gave some guiding principles to differentiate between a true versus a false prophet.

1. A true prophet acknowledges that the historic Jesus is the son of God.  When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it isn’t important whether Jesus was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Jesus, they are false prophets.

2. True prophets read and obey God’s word. They preach the Bible because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they don’t get taken in by words of false prophets.

3. False prophets are recognized by sin in their lives. A prophet who breaks God’s commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. Today’s false prophets contend that these standards are unrealistic; they are so high that people can’t meet them. False prophets argue these moral-ethical standards that Jesus described will only be achieved when Jesus returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Jesus’s teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets commit sin, then and now, when they deny God’s word.

Reflection: List at least four activities/behaviors in your life that you could or will change so others more consistently recognize Jesus’s teachings in your life.

http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Miracle with Barley

Bible Reference: John 6.1-15

My favorite miracle was Jesus feeding the 5000 plus individuals with a child’s offering of five barley loaves and two fishes. This miracle was the only one described in all four gospels; however, John’s gospel has the most detail (John 6.1-15). Another miracle in which Jesus fed 4000 plus individuals with bread and fish shouldn’t be confused with this one. That miracle didn’t name the type of bread. This miracle identified that loaves of bread were made from barley.

Right before this Bible story, Jesus learned that King Herod murdered his cousin, John the Baptist.  In response Jesus attempted to get away from the crowds and go into an isolated area. Perhaps, Jesus wanted to mourn his cousin or just reflect on how the devil attempts to thwart God’s purpose. In a boat, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to a remote area.

Jesus’s plan to get away didn’t work. Crowds followed him to this isolated area. I would have responded, “Go away! Go away! I need a break! Can’t you see that I’m sad?” Instead of being annoyed by the people’s persistence, Jesus felt compassion for them. He healed the sick among them and continued to teach them by word and deed.

Near day’s end, Jesus’s disciples suggested that he send the crowd into surrounding villages, so they could purchase food (John 6.1-15). I imagine the disciples were hungry after all day in the open country. Perhaps, they projected their hunger onto the crowd. Jesus told his disciples to feed the crowd. The disciples looking at each other, thinking “How?” Courageously, Philip responded that it would take more than half a year’s wages to buy sufficient bread for each person to have one bite. Essentially, Philip said that disciples didn’t have funds to buy bread to feed the crowd. Andrew added that there was a boy who had fivebarley loaves and two fishes, and asked, “What are they for so many? (John 6.9 ESV).

Jesus directed the crowd to sit down on the grass and thanked God for the five barley loaves and two fishes. His disciples distributed the food. When all finished eating, bits and pieces of food not eaten were collected. The leftovers filled 12 baskets. The total number of people who miraculously ate could have been up to about 20,000 people. John counted only men, not women or children

Was Jesus God?

Because this blog is about Jesus’s interactions with plants, I am going to focus on barley rather than fish. Before the Israelites entered the promised land, Moses told them that they were entering a land where barley grew (Deuteronomy 8.8). Primarily, ancient barley was made into bread. So close was the association between Israelites and barley, that Midianites referred to Israelites as “cakes of barley” (Judges 7.13-14). Barley was a dependable, disease-resistant crop,  less expensive to grow than wheat. Barley could be grown in less fertile soil than wheat, i.e. on hillsides. Further, barley had a shorter sow-to-harvest cycle than wheat.

Israelites planted barley (and wheat) in autumn, about the time of first rains. Barley seeds were planted by one of two methods. Sometimes, farmers broadcast (strewed, threw) seeds onto unplowed ground and allowed them to germinate where they landed. A more reliable way to get a good barley crop was for the farmer to plow the top 3-4 inches of soil with an ox-drawn plow. Then, broadcast barley seeds by hand. Finally, the farmer plowed a second time, forcing seeds under the soil. Seeds stayed in the soil over winter, sprouted in the spring, and barley was harvested in April.

A  boy offered Jesus the meal his mother packed for him. The boy, perhaps 8-11 years-of-age, could have taken his food, slipped over a hill, and eaten it.  The boy and his family were poor; barley was the bread of the poor in 1st century Palestine. Instead, this boy embraced Jesus’s message to the point that he was willing to give all he had to Jesus.

Reflection: Are you embracing Jesus’s message? How is it changing your behavior?

Copyright 8/17/2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Grape, Vine, Vineyards

Bible References: John 2.1-12; Mark 12.1-12.

Jesus was familiar with symbolism of vines and vineyards. He knew that often when the Old Testament prophets referenced vine or vineyard, they spoke about judgment that God would bring upon disobedient Israelites. The grapevine didn’t elicit positive images to first-century Jews. The first time Gospel writers recorded an interaction with Jesus and the grapevine, he performed a miracle at Cana in Galilee.  Subsequently, several of Jesus’s teachings used grapevines, vineyards, and wine.

Very early in Jesus’s ministry, he and disciples were at a marriage feast. The feast was at the bridegroom’s home. Possibly, the groom was a friend or relative of Jesus’s family. Mary, Jesus’s mother, was there; she was concerned that all went well at the feast. Servants obeyed Mary’s directions. When the wine ran out, Mary told Jesus, clearly expecting him to do something. Although a little reluctant to become involved, Jesus turn water into wine and performed his first-recorded miracle. Jesus’s miracles pointed to him as Messiah and were designed to honor God.

God told Israelites that seven plants would be available to them in the promised land (Deuteronomy 8.8) The grapevine was one a plant. Vitis vinifera is the botanical name for the grapevine that grew in Israel.  In ancient Israel, grapevines were a principle crop because grapes could be eaten fresh, dried, or made into wine. Although the Negev was a popular area for wine production in ancient times, today, grapes and wineries are present throughout Israel.

When Jewish leaders began to oppose him, Jesus started to use parables to make points. One parable focused on a vineyard (Mark 12.1-12). A man planted a vineyard. He protected the vineyard by putting a fence around it and adding a watch tower. He dug a pit for the winepress. Then, the man leased the vineyard to tenants and left the country. After a season, the owner sent a series of servants to obtain the fruit (money) the vineyard produced. Tenants beat and/or killed each servant. Not once did tenants pay the owner what was due him. Finally, the owner said to himself:  I will send my beloved son, my heir, to collect what is due me. Surely, the tenants will respect my son; but, instead of respecting the owner’s son, they killed him.

After telling this parable, Jesus asked listeners what the vineyard owner should do. He gave an answer—the owner will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. In response to Jesus’s answer, religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus. They knew that God was the vineyard owner who sent multiple prophets to claim the fruit that Israel should have produced. The Israelites/Jews beat or killed prophets.  They knew that Jesus’s parable meant that God was going to take the spiritual vineyard from Jews and give it to another people. Perhaps these same Jewish leaders started to think of killing Jesus this early in his ministry. Did they even imagine that by killing Jesus, they were killing God’s son?

Reflection: Do you ever act in a way that God wants to take his spiritual vineyard away from you?

Copyright: August 13, 2018. Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.

John, Unbendable Reed

 

Reference: Luke 7:19-28

John the Baptist’s public ministry lasted one-to-two years. Jesus went to John to be baptized. Baptizing Jesus was the high point of John’s ministry. Then, King Herod Antipas arrested John and imprisoned him at Machaerus, a walled fortress with special quarters for political prisoners. When King Herod arrested John, the ostensible reason was that John criticized Herod for divorcing his powerful Nabatean wife.

Although King Herod used a personal reason for imprisoning John, getting John out of circulation made political sense. John mandated that individuals, who came to him for baptism, change their behavior.  John advocated economic changes that influenced King Herod’s income. For example, John told tax collectors to collect only the amount of money required by Rome. They should stop lining their pockets and those of King Herod by over-taxing citizens. Soldiers must be content with their pay and stop extorting money from individuals. John had tremendous influence with people in Herod’s kingdom. According to the first century historian, Josephus, Herod feared that John, with his widespread support from the common people, would instigate rebellion against him.5

After John was in prison perhaps 15-18 months, he sent two disciples to Jesus. They asked Jesus if he was the expected Messiah, or if they should look for someone else (Luke 7.19). Jesus didn’t give the disciples a direct “Yes” or “No” answer.  Instead Jesus told the disciples to go back to John and report what they saw and heard, i.e., the blind received their sight, the lame walked, lepers were cured. After John’s messengers left, Jesus asked the crowd what they expected when they went to see John in the desert. Jesus contrasted John the Baptist’s behavior with a reed that blew in the wind, swaying first one way than another.

The reed that Jesus referred to when talking about John was the Arundo donax, known as the giant reed or the Cypress cane. Reed colonies were located on the banks of natural water courses, in floodplains of medium or large sized streams, and in dry river banks far from permanent water sources. Reeds grew throughout Israel from Mount Hermon to the Negev Desert.

Giant Reed

Giant reeds are perennials; they regrow year-after-year. Reeds  reach a height of 20 feet and may grow 10-12 feet in a single season. In frost areas, reeds are smaller. Often, they die back in winter, only to regrow in spring. Like bamboo grass, the giant reed spreads readily. Roots are thick, knobby rhizomes. In nature, this reed often propagates by rhizomes breaking from the main root stock, moving through the water, and taking root in a new location. The central reed stalk is called a culm; culms are about 1 ½ inches in diameter and hollow. Each culm has many leaves that resemble corn stalks; however, leaves have sharp edges that can cut fingers.

Culms and leaves are green in spring and early summer. As drier weather prevails, foliage turns light brown and rattles in the wind. Giant reeds bend with the wind, even when they grow in large colonies. In ancient times, reeds were used to check soil erosion and functioned as wind breaks.

Symbolism: Unbendable

Jesus asked the crowd if they expected to see a reed swaying in the wind when they went out to see John the Baptist. In New Testament times, individuals knew about reeds.  At a minimum, they saw reeds growing along the Jordan River. To them reeds elicited mainly positive thoughts. Perhaps, they remembered how Isaiah associated reeds with humility (Isaiah 58.5).

Jesus denied that John was a swaying reed. John was firm and upright, unlike a reed that swayed in the wind. Jesus averred that John’s beliefs were firm, and he lived by them. John stayed on message (repentance) and on task, (baptism). John didn’t have a politically correct bone in his body. He didn’t pander to public opinion, giving one message to common people and a second one to the rich and powerful. John called the Jerusalem elite “a brood of vipers.” Nor, was John silent when King Herod divorced his first wife, Phasaelis, to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Instead, John labeled Herod an adulterer.

Despite Jesus denying that John was a swaying reed, John’s behavior reflected how reeds were used in ancient Judea and Galilee. By his words and life, John stood against the erosion of godly living. He called ordinary citizens, tax collectors, and civil and religious leaders to a life changed to reflect God’s standards.

Like reeds used as windbreaks, John stood as a buffer between people who were righteous and the secular society of the Roman Empire. The best windbreaks lower wind chill in man, animals, and plants. Everything we know about John the Baptist showed a priest and prophet who lived close to God. As a windbreak John, lowered the chilling effects of the secular Roman society on inhabitants of Galilee and Judea.

Jesus’s comments on John the Baptist included a eulogy for John. In addition to commendatory words given at a memorial service, eulogy means “high praise.” Although John was still alive, Jesus eulogized him by saying of all men (and women) born of woman, there was none greater than John the Baptist. John wasn’t a weak reed, or as we would say in the 21 century, John the Baptist wasn’t a “shrinking violet.”

Reflection: What about you? Do you bend and sway with all types of adversity?

Copyright: 7/26/18; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

What is beauty?

Lonicera sempervirens 'Cedar Lane'

When I received my first Bible, in it was a picture of Christ. He had shoulder-length medium brown hair that was clean and combed, he was beardless, and his complexion was medium. Christ’s expression was serene and thoughtful. Recently on-line, I saw another picture of Christ surrounded by disciples. He was a vigorous, healthy-looking male with neck-length light-brown hair. He was beardless and smiling. In both representative pictures, Christ was attractive.

The Bible describes the reality of Christ this way:
• “As Christ grew and in adulthood, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
• After the Roman soldiers were finished torturing Christ, “many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:14).

Coral Honeysuckle

In contrast to the reality of Christ, the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is described by all as attractive. It is the 2014 Virginia wildflower of the year. The honey suckle is a twining woody vine that often trails over the ground or climbs other vegetation. When cultivated, gardeners often grow this honeysuckle on trellis to display the beauty of the flowers.

Coral honeysuckle has evergreen leaves and terminal flower clusters. Flowers are produced from early to mid-spring and sporadically thereafter. The corolla is tubular with five fairly equal sized loves. From the outside coral honeysuckle looks deep pink to red; however, the inside is frequently yellow but can be red or orange.

Single flower, Lonicera sempervirens

Coral honeysuckle is famous because it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Nectar is abundant and has a floral odor. The bright red fruits are attractive to birds such as finches, thrushes and robins. The plant is host to larvae of spring azure butterflies and snowberry clearwing moths.

Native Americans believed the coral honeysuckle had healing properties. They used leaves (dried, smoked, or steeped in water) as a tea to treat asthma, sore throats, and coughs. Chewed leaves were applied to bee stings and supposedly alleviated swelling. Native Americans were aware that in humans honeysuckle berries caused nausea and vomiting.

Application and Reflection

When I saw pictures of the coral honeysuckle and read its attraction to birds and insects, I thought about Christ. Only Christ was not necessarily physically attractive. Because he was fully man, by the end of long days, both he and his clothes smelled like perspiration. He was an itinerant rabbi (teacher). Likely, Christ did not have toilet paper, take a daily shower, or use a tooth brush or dental floss. UGH!

What attracted people of his time to Christ? In those days, 5,000 -7,000 individuals was a large number of folks to go out and listen to even the greatest teacher; but Christ drew this size crowds.

What attracts me to Christ is his message as described in the Bible, but particularly, the gospels. I still cannot comprehend an individual loving me enough to be tortured and die for me. Why would God want to do this? I am indeed a wretched creature and Christ is the Son of God and part of the Trinity.

Reflection: Reflect on Christ’s appearance. Compare it to your ideas of attractiveness.

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: February 8, 2015, Carolyn A. Roth, all rights reserved.

Easter Symbols: Plant, Eggs

 

The Easter season last 50 days, from Easter morning through Pentecost eve. There are two preeminent symbols of Easter (besides the cross and empty grave): the lily and the colored egg. Here is the stories of both.

Easter Lily: On Easter morning at my church, the altar is surrounded by blooming Easter lilies. Even window sills in the sanctuary are filled with the white lilies. Many churches that decorate for the Easter service with Easter lilies allow members to buy (sponsor) the lilies as a memorial to friends and relatives or in honor of someone in the church or in their lives. After Resurrection Sunday, individuals can take the flowers home, or, as in our church, donate them to beautify the church grounds.

Although the Easter lily is the pre-eminent symbol of the resurrection of Jesus, most of us don’t know its origins and what we think we know is tradition or legend. For example, one legend is that lilies sprang up in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus prayed there during his final hours. Another is that after Mary died, white lilies were found at her empty tomb, despite lily flowers or bulbs not being placed there. The white petals represented Mary’s body and the golden anthers represented her soul.

Although Jesus named the lily of the field when he urged the crowd to not worry (Matthew 6:25-34), the lily of the field isn’t the resurrection lily found in our churches at Easter. A minor prophet, Hosea, identified the resurrection lily and associated it with chastity and innocence. Hosea lived in the final disastrous years of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hosea averred that Israel’s idol worship was spiritual adultery (Hosea chapter 14).

Through Hosea, God said that if Israel repented, God would cause Israel to blossom like a lily (Lilium candidum). The formerly adulterous kingdom would once again become innocent. The lily is the most mentioned flower in the Bible. It signified hope, purity, and life everlasting. By his death and resurrection, Jesus assured believers that they can become innocent and pure and are guaranteed eternal life with him.

Easter Eggs: The custom of Easter eggs is thought to have originated in the Mesopotamia Christian community. At times, this community stained chicken eggs red in memory of Jesus’ blood. Also, the egg is an ancient symbol of the tomb where Jesus was buried. The shell of the egg is dead, as Jesus’ body was dead in the tomb. But in that tomb as inside the dead shell of an egg, there is the potential for new life to break out. On Easter morning Jesus walked out of the tomb and left it an empty shell. When Christians die, their body is an empty shell in the grave, but their spirit lives. The spirit goes to be with God forever.

Red eggs are given to Orthodox Christians after the Easter Liturgy. They crack their eggs against each other’s. I assume that these eggs are hard boiled otherwise the church could become a mess. The cracking of the eggs symbolizes a wish to break away from the bonds of sin and misery and enter the new life issuing from Christ’s resurrection. In some Christian churches, priests bless and sprinkle eggs with holy water.

In my family home, several days before Easter, mother boiled chicken eggs in their shells until the egg yolk was hard, removed the shells, and placed the eggs in red beet juice in a large jar. The juice permeated the white layer of eggs and turned them pink (red). As children, we had no idea of the significance of these “red beet hard-boiled eggs.” We just knew that they were always served with the Easter meal and tasted good.

April 10, 2018; Copyright Carolyn A. Roth. This post is from my new book: Connecting the Church Calendar, 101 Meditations for Church Season. Check it out at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

The Last Supper

Bible Reference: Luke 22:7-23.

For Christians, the Passover meal Christ celebrated with his apostles is called the Last Supper and the Guest Room known as the Upper Room. Area maps showed that the Upper Room was south of the Temple near the Gihon Spring. A path led from the Upper Room through the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. The date for the Passover meal in 33 A.D. was Thursday, April 22 (Wallace, 2012).

The central food in the Passover meal was a one-year-old unblemished male lamb. This lamb symbolized Christ, the unblemished lamb who was sacrificed for sins. Another food in the Passover Meal was bitter herbs which were associated with the bitterness of Israelite life in Egypt. The type of bitter herb used for the Passover meal was not specified in the Bible; it could have been endive, lettuce, dandelion, etc, or another herb that grew around Jerusalem.

When Christ offered the Passover bread and the third cup of Passover wine to his apostles at the Last Supper, he initiated a Christian ritual — Holy Eucharist. The bread and wine symbolized Christ’s body which would be broken and his blood which would be shed for mankind.  In many Christian churches, the Eucharist is offered every week to congregates as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice and to give them strength in their Christian walk.

Dandelion

Known since the time of Moses, the dandelion is used to illustrate bitter herbs in the Last Supper.  The species name of dandelion is Taraxacom officinale.  It has numerous common names to include puff ball, Irish daisy, and wine’s snout. In Israel, dandelions grow from the extreme north at Mount Hermon south to the Negev Dessert.

Dandelion is a perennial herb. Leaves grow directly from the root in a rosette pattern; often leaves grow more horizontal than upright. Flower stems are erect, smooth, and hollow.  Normally flower stems grow about 6-8 inches in length; however, a dandelion plant left un-accosted in my flower bed had a 12-inch flower stem. The flower has a golden yellow head that is 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Did you know that dandelion flowers close at night and open at daylight?

Although dandelion leaves have a bitter flavor, the plant is cultivated as a salad crop. My mother served yard (not garden) dandelion greens with hard boiled eggs, bacon, and a tangy warm dressing.  A cousin used young dandelion flowers to make wine.

Symbolism: Lion’s tooth

The word dandelion comes from the French phrase “dent de lion” which means “lion’s tooth” because of the jagged shape of leaves. The dandelion, the bane of home-owners and farmers, hardly seems to warrant a French name as grand as lion’s tooth.  “Lion’s tooth” reminds us of Christ. When Christ came to earth two millennia ago, he came as a humble suffering servant.  When he returns to earth the second time, Christ will return as a lion. He will be a military leader who will rend and tear those individuals who set themselves against him.

Reflection: Have you encountered Christ in his role of suffering servant or will you encounter him the first time as a military leader?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God 2 and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 3/18