Today, while I was sitting in the chair that overlooks Ninth Street, I was just able to see a bouncing mop of curly hair over the lip of my front porch as someone came down the sidewalk. It reminded me of a friend's brother's hair. I wondered if his face was also similar to the man's face I know. He came closer and closer toward the house and seemed very comfortable stepping into my front strip. (I cannot call it a yard.) He seemed so at ease stepping into the grass towards my front steps I thought perhaps he was a familiar person happening by for a visit. Then I saw his hand reach up and pick an apple off my apple tree!
I act without thinking in these situations. My gut instinct is almost always to confront strangers directly. I took the three steps to my door and opened it up to find him just at the bottom of the stairs. An older woman was with him. "I knew you'd get caught!" she said, smiling in a way that said she was definitely embarrassed and possibly the grown man's mother.
"You will want to cut that open first," I told him. "They're bad in the middle." (I will make sure to spray the blossoms next year.)
He clearly did not want to stop to chat. "Oh, really?"
"Yeah. So you might not want to just bite into it. We will gladly share them with you, but please just ask." I wasn't being holy saying it. It was a script I had memorized. I had told myself I had to be willing for the apples to be stolen. If it's possible to invite people to steal, planting an apple tree 4 feet from the sidewalk and leaving its golden apples dangling there is as good an invitation as any. I have to convince myself to share and say I'm glad to do it until it's true. It gets truer each day.
The man kept walking and I went in my house, thinking over what had happened. If I was really that glad to share, perhaps I would not have opened the door to tell him so. I don't know. I'm not perfect, so I returned to my seat to process my sense of injustice at someone nonchalantly plucking and apple I had planted and tended for a year.
I really would give him the apple if he asked. I'd be a jerk not to, right? It reminded me of this story from Luke 11. I'm quoting it from The Voice Bible.
5 Imagine that one of your friends comes over at midnight. He bangs on the door and shouts, “Friend, will you lend me three loaves of bread? 6 A friend of mine just showed up unexpectedly from a journey, and I don’t have anything to feed him.” 7 Would you shout out from your bed, “I’m already in bed, and so are the kids. I already locked the door. I can’t be bothered”? 8 You know this as well as I do: even if you didn’t care that this fellow was your friend, if he keeps knocking long enough, you’ll get up and give him whatever he needs simply because of his brash persistence!
I start imagining the conversation that I didn't continue having with the man.
Just ask! I will give it, but I'd rather that you'd ask! If you don't ask, you're assuming I wouldn't give it to you. You assume I'm stingy and that you have to steal to get what is mine. If you just ask, I can give it to you. You can have it and we can talk face to face. I can tell you all about why it's the best apple on earth. You can know you're eating a Gold Rush apple. You can know this is the perfect time to pick them and you can come back next year at the same time. I can learn your name and address you as who you are instead of knowing you only as the man who stole my apple. If you'd just ask, we could chat and know each other a bit and the apple would be truly yours. As it is, you're eating my stolen fruit. You can't look me in the face and I can't look you in yours.
Maybe I should put up a sign in my yard that says, "It takes more courage to ask than to steal." It's quicker and easier to just snatch it, but if people just ask, we can know each other a bit and aren't left making so many assumptions.
And I start to wonder if God doesn't have these same wishes in regard to us. How often do we try to snatch things to provide for ourselves instead of just asking for them? It's quicker and easier to just get what we can and go on. But to stop, knock, and ask takes some time and being willing to look each other in the eye for a bit. It takes courage to go to the Person to Whom All Things Belong to ask. What if we get turned down? What if we're not good enough? What if that apple is being saved for someone better than us? What if we get told no? It's a risk and we have to summon courage to take it; stealing requires boldness, perhaps, but not true courage.
But what if that fruit is planted there as an invitation? I've planted my tree where anyone might pick it in hopes of learning how to be more generous of heart. What if God has planted good things out of his generosity? The truth is that my apples don't belong to just me or my friends. I determined in advance that they belong to whoever asks for them. I think God may be the same way. His goodness, even His entire kingdom belongs to whoever finds the courage to ask for it. If we ask, then if we are granted it, it can be truly ours. If we snatch, we're stuck eating the forbidden fruit again. What should I be asking for instead of plotting to snatch?