I can tell you where the love affair began. It was the summer of 1962, and my family and I were visiting my grandparents in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, my grandfather was the pastor of the Hobson Methodist Church.
And, in the old parsonage next door to the church, we gathered--my family, my aunt and her family, my grandparents. And, like it was yesterday, I recall taking the plunge.
"Wouldn't you want to try a tomato?" my grandmother asked.
And, I did. And, the rest of the story is one of the great love stories of all time!
I can think of no art, no prize, no gift better than the tomato--a glorious, bursting fruit, tasting of sun and soil and heaven and earth.
It is July. And, that means that tomato season is here. And, for the next couple of months, and in some spots even into September, our world will be a better place. Slice them and salt them and eat them. Put them between white bread with mayo, salt, and pepper. Put them between white bread with mayo, salt, pepper, lettuce, and bacon. Put them in a bowl with onions and cucumbers and vinegar. Dice them and marry them with basil, salt, pepper, and balsamic, and gently place that on top of grilled ciabatta. Make a soup. Drink the juice. Make a sauce for delicate angel hair. Dab a little behind your ears. It is tomato time!
Ponder for a moment the difference between the just-plucked-from-the-garden, ripe, luscious, rounded, supple, sun-drenched tomato, and the hard and lifeless thing that passes for a tomato in the wintertime. It is the difference between life and death!
I learned a few years ago why those winter tomatoes taste so terrible. They are green tomatoes masquerading as red ones! In order to get tomatoes from California or Florida or Mexico to your market, they have to be picked before they are ripe. They are picked at the stage referred to as "mature green," after which they lay on a pallet for three days while they are sprayed with ethylene gas, a completely harmless substance that fools the tomato into thinking that it's time to ripen. The tomatoes begin to soften and turn red, but they're still essentially green tomatoes. They look like a tomato, but they most assuredly do not taste like one.
Think of all that makes that home-grown tomato such a delight. Think of all of that as the love of Jesus. For us Christians, it is the love of Jesus that ripens us and flavors us and infuses us with the kind of enlivening spiritual explosiveness that makes a difference in the world.
Tomato season affords an opportunity for each of us to ponder our Christian fruitfulness. It's one thing to look like a Christian--attending church, tending to this or that religious ritual or tradition. It's quite another to have been so touched by the love of Jesus that others can taste and see and touch and experience the brightness of his love in us.
What kind of tomatoes are we? Sprayed or ripe?