I named my Israeli blog “meirav peeling oranges” and wrote a post there once explaining the metaphor behind this title. It comes from a story I heard a long time ago – a story about a young boy in India whose mother sent him outside with a crate of oranges, to sit on the pavement and sell oranges to passers by. The boy sat there all day in the hot sun, shouting “oranges, oranges”, but nobody stopped to buy from him. As time went on, he was getting more and more hot, tired, thirsty and despondent. He knew his family needed the money to buy food. But eventually he got so tired and thirsty that, even though he knew his mother would be angry with him, he decided to eat one of the oranges.
So the boy took an orange out of the crate and peeled it. And the wonderful aroma filled the air, and people stopped to buy the tasty oranges.
Part of what I try to do on my Israeli blog, and everywhere else for that matter, is this: to give people a chance to smell the wonderful aroma of Jesus, to show something of the difference he makes to my life, to share something of what it’s like to know God’s total, unconditional, amazing love for me. I have the most wonderful orange of all, tasty and nutritious and full of amazing qualities like no other orange ever, and I want people to know that, I want people to taste it for themselves and find out how wonderful this orange is.
But there’s more to it than that. I want people to know about Jesus not just because he’s wonderful, not just because of the amazing difference he makes to people’s lives, not just because knowing that God loves me and forgives me is fantastic. I want people to know about Jesus because I believe it’s a matter of life and death. And that’s the bit that won’t come through just by this orange-peeling stuff that I do, it won’t come through just by showing you the difference Jesus makes to my life here and now. It will only come through when I say clearly: I believe you need Jesus because he is the only one who can save you from hell.
But saying that – it doesn’t make you popular, it doesn’t win you coolness points, it makes people very uncomfortable and they start saying things like: how dare you tell me that I’m going to hell, or: how dare you say that this or that person, who was so wonderful and kind and loving, has gone to hell… And all I can say is: whoa, don’t shoot the messenger, it’s not my idea, it’s not me who gets to decide who does or doesn’t, it’s God who calls the shots, he made this world and all that’s in it and he says we’re all sinners, all falling short, all deserving death. But he also says: I love you so much that I sent my Son to die in your place. All you have to do is accept that gift, and you’ll be saved.
Still people shake their fists at him and say: why can’t he save us without our having to go through these hoops? But it’s not much of a hoop really, it’s not like you have to do ten sit-ups every day or chant some chant a dozen times before breakfast or cut out butter from your diet or…. it’s not about doing anything to earn it, it’s about saying: oh, I see, I was wrong, God, you’re right of course (being the one who made us and knows what’s best for us), I need to stop living my way and start living your way, and I need your help with that; thank you for loving me so much that you sent Jesus to take the punishment I deserve, thank you for this amazing gift, now how do I go about unwrapping it please?
The Bible describes the unwrapping process like this: repent, believe and be baptised. Repenting is the decision to stop living your way and to start living God’s way. Believing means you take God at his word and trust that the sacrifice of Jesus is all you need in order to be saved. Being baptised is an act of immersion in water: as you go under the water, your old sinful self is buried; as you come out of the water, you come out to a new life in Jesus, clean not physically but spiritually.
I did this ten years ago. I was a churchgoer for over a decade before that, but it was only ten years ago that I finally understood what it was that Jesus came to earth and died for and why I needed him. And I want other people to know too. Because having him in my life here and now is wonderful, but more than that, because of what happens after we die. I was talking to a friend this afternoon about why I try to tell people about Jesus, and gave him this analogy: if I believe you’re going to die of, say, lethal snake poisoning unless you get the right medication, and you seem unaware that the snake has poisoned you at all or you think that drinking mango juice will help, then isn’t it important for you that I tell you about the medication? I know this doesn’t go with the world view of many of my friends, but this is how it looks from where I’m looking: I’m surrounded by people who are either convinced that humankind has not been bitten by a lethal poisonous snake, or they think they have an alternative remedy and don’t need Jesus. I believe the poison is real and lethal, and I believe the alternative remedies won’t work. So I try to warn people. I believe everyone needs to know.
Orange peeling can give you a sense of the flavour and juiciness of my orange, but that’s as far as it goes. It can’t show you the medicinal qualities of this orange, nor can it show you that other oranges don’t have the same effect. That’s something I can only convey through actually saying it out loud.