The Blood of the Olive


By and large, the olive is a happy fruit. Ask a grandchild what the olive is for and they will happily show you their fingers, each digit proudly adorned with an olive. Ask an adult and they will tell you that the olive is for pizza or as a container for hors d’oeuvres. But from a scriptural viewpoint the olive is a great deal more.

The first mention of the olive in scripture is in the book of Genesis. Although to be fair, what the dove brought back to Noah in the ark was an olive leaf, but qualified as proof of life and that the fruit of restoration was already growing. Fast forward to Jesus’ day and olives are valued for their oil in both commerce and worship.

For the worth of the olive to be revealed it must first be pressed. Pressed is a dignified word that means “crush the life out of it”. It is not a happy experience for the olive.

There are three stages to pressing oil from the olive. At the first pressing, the oil that is released is called “extra-virgin” and is used as fuel in the temple lamps of the Menorah. The seven lamp-stands of Revelation Chapter One are fueled by olive oil. There is light in the olive.

What is left in the press is run through a second time, pressed until every drop of oil is released. The oil of the second pressing is often used as medicine by first century physicians. There is healing in the olive.

The third pressing of the olive takes the pasty stuff that is left and forms it into easily held cakes. This is the last function of the happy olive, to be used as soap. There is cleansing in the olive.

As an aside, I will note that the olive, like a human being, is made up of three basic parts. The skin of the olive, the exocarp, is the container that allows for easy handling. The guts of the olive, the mesocarp, is the meat where the oil is stored. Finally, the endocarp, the pit, the seed. This is the part of the olive that if planted in the earth will rise again as a new tree. Born again is a useful analogy.

So let us jump back to the first century where we find Jesus and His disciples taking an after dinner walk on the Mount of Olives. So named for the many olive gardens growing on its flanks. One such garden is named Gethsemane, which means “The Olive Press”. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus’ words, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” Simply put, the Most Noble Olive was having a very stressful evening. Roman executions were very public and usually performed on top of a high hill so that they could be seen from all directions. Scripture does not tell us, but I believe that because both Golgotha and the Garden of Gethsemane are high places, you can see one from the other.

What is recorded is that three times Jesus was pressed in that garden, three times He asked His Father, “If it be possible?”, and three times finished with, “Not My will but thy will.” The Gospel of Luke says that, “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Salvation was paid for at the cross, but it was won when the Olive was pressed at Gethsemane.


More Than Two Sparrows

It was one of those days when the spiritual giant was taking some time off and left the pathetic human alone with his thoughts. Nothing was going right, the dishwasher was broken again, the weed whacker was out of line, and the car was out of gas. The verse of the day was Matthew 10:29-31. “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Yup, that made it all feel better. Not.

What I knew I should do was take a walk to refresh the mind and get back to work. What I was doing instead was staring at the wall and sending out invitations to a pity-party that no one would attend. That’s when the noise started.

At first it was barely audible, but gained intensity until it became a rustling roar that got so loud I had to get off my butt and go see what it was. What it was, was the rapid beating of 75 to 100 pairs of wings, a literal mob of sparrows chasing one another and having a chirp-in around the blue spruce behind my house. It was a total cacophony of bird happy. Sparrows must have come from blocks all around to congregate around that specific spruce.

Go ahead. Explain it. I couldn’t and for that reason it made me smile for the first time that day.

Do you see the lesson?

The Witness

The Sea of Galilee is only seven and a half miles wide and thirty two miles long from north to south, but from the side of the rocky slope where Two Feather sat, it was horizon to horizon. A gentle breeze painted the grayish blue surface with small, white capped waves. That breeze was a warm one, a gift of spring. The small waves lapped at the shore, probing at the rocks and gravel that told the water “this far and no farther”. From that rocky berm, the slope that was Two Feather’s perch rose in a broad, miles wide steppe before it steepened into a mountain side. Tall, thick spring grass was caressed by the same breeze shared by the sea, and created an emerald version of the waves.

Trees were scattered along the shores of Galilee in odd patchwork patterns, mostly small groves and thickets that thrived near the brooks that flowed down from higher ground. The thickening vegetation was what made the shallow coulees visible from the far side of the sea as dark lines. The mixture of species was as random as the pattern; olive, walnut and fig, and the ever present gray-green of oak. To some it looked as if God had stumbled and spilled His bag of seeds across the Earth.

To one side of the sparse forest was one tree much older than the rest. The sentinel of the Sea of Galilee stood apart from the copse of brush and tree, several hundred yards above the water line like a sentry watching above a garrison. Unlike the somewhat scraggly growth that covered the hill, it was large and thick and had obviously once thrived. Not now.

The trunk was old and gnarled, bleached white by age and weathered by wind to an almost satin sheen. Large boughs that should have been a crown of glory for the old acacia, were broken and twisted by wind into a t-shaped cross. Heavy roots plunged deep into the rocky soil of the slope and had held the old one steadfast against countless storms and the ravages of time and chance. The Witness had no eyes yet it watched all that passed this way. It had no ears yet it had listened to conversations from the days of Noah’s sons until now. Even though the old one appeared to be dead, it had a heartbeat that still pulsed with all creation. It was a rhythm that a man might hear if he stopped long enough to listen. The acacia had no mouth but it spoke with a voice of wisdom that could be heard, if listened to with patience.

Two Feather sat on one of the few remaining branches, a broken limb not much more than a snag only, but large enough that the sparrow could sit with room to spare. The Witness knew the sparrow as Paseriformes/passeridae/passer moabiticus, a Dead Sea Sparrow that had wandered north of his home and had stayed for the food. The sparrow was aware of the tree watching it, but the two had been good friends for a very long time. Measured in sparrow years of course.

Two Feather tilted his head back and warbled a song of praise to the Lord that had so abundantly blessed him this day. He had found a tantalizing bit of caraway near the water and had claimed it. It was not much in the eyes of man, but to a sparrow it was a huge feast and reason for celebration. Two Feather could care less where the bounty had come from, what mattered was that his God had provided it, and for that he gave thanks. Witness listened to the song, sharing the joy and the praise, and then watched the little bird eat for a few minutes.

A crowd was forming a quarter of a mile to the east and swelling up slope. Throngs of people had been wandering around the sea for most of the morning, arriving in small groups that were becoming a multitude.

Drawn by Two Feather’s song, another sparrow arrived and perched on the same broken branch. “Good morning, eh,” the new comer said.

“Ah,” Witness said. “Passeriformes/passeridae/zonotrichia leucophrys.”

“Say what?” Two Feather asked.

“How did you know, eh?” asked new comer.

Witness chuckled. “Well, besides the markings and the color, the accent pretty much gave you away. Eh?”

“I haven’t seen one like you around here before,” Two Feather said.

“And probably won’t again,” Witness said. “Our new friend here is a Harris’s Sparrow, probably wandered from his migration route.” The branch the two sparrows sat on shook lightly as the Witness laughed. “His kind are indigenous to Canada, Two Feather. And very rare on this side of the world.”

“Name is Claude, eh,” the new comer said.

“Here,” Two Feather said, pushing his caraway seed toward the other. “I know where there is another one of these.” With a rapid flutter of wings, Two Feather disappeared. A minute later he was back, carrying another caraway seed in his beak.

Witness watched the growing crowd as the two sparrows nibbled contentedly at their seeds.

“What’s the hub-bub aboot, eh?” Claude asked at last, tipping his head toward the crowd wandering the shoreline.

“Jesus is coming by today,” Witness said. “And the crowd is waiting for a chance to see Him.”

“That is only a rumor,” Two Feather said around a beak full of seed.

“No,” Witness said. “I can see Him from here. He is just beyond that last turn in the shoreline to the south. This crowd will be seeing Him before long.”

“You certainly seem to know your species,” Claude said, resisting the urge to add, “eh”.

Witness said nothing but both sparrows heard the quiet chuckle that vibrated the branch they sat on. A crow suddenly flew by, heading to the south to escape the rapidly growing crowd.

“Yo, Two Feather, sup’ man?” Crow called as he passed.

“Hey dude, watch for wind shear,” Two Feather called back.

“And watch out for cats, eh?” Claude added and then clamped his beak shut. Without slowing, Crow looked back and was staring at Claude as if he might have two heads. “What was wrong with that?” Claud asked. “It’s a common enough greeting where I come from. And what was that by the way?”

“Passeriformes/corvidae, corvus cornix, otherwise known as a Hooded Crow. Or raven in some parts,” Witness said.

The direction of the breeze changed abruptly and the sound of quiet laughter began among a large patch of lilies on the ridge behind them. Like a crowd of laughing children chasing the same ball, the sound raced by on its way toward the growing multitude. Long strands of spring grass bent with the breeze, adding their own songs of joy. The breeze sighed happily, carrying the music of life toward the humans, and then descended the slope to the water’s edge. The old tree laughed and both sparrows began to warble in harmony, sharing a song of praise. All the leaves of all the trees in the groves spread around the sea began to rustle, the sound like the clapping of thousands of hands. Creation was rejoicing.

“Jesus is coming,” the whisper spread quickly from olive to oak to fig and raced across the grass covered slope.

“He is here,” the grass giggled.

“Hosanna,” cried the trees.

Lilies, spread all along the grassy slope by the thousands opened wide their blooms and smiled at the sky. Even the rocks that held the hill in place rumbled, sighing with simple pleasure as the Son of God approached.

The man walking along the shore was tall and slender and ordinary looking in every way except one. Where every face in the crowd He approached was marked and creased by care, His was not. It was the smile shinning from that face that had created such a stir in the creation that surrounded the sea. Behind Him walked a retinue of dozens of all shapes and sizes, with a smaller group that stayed closer.

As He passed by His face turned and He looked up the slope to where the acacia tree and the two sparrows were watching. With the smallest of nods, the Son of God acknowledged them. So subtle was the motion that none of the crowed noticed. A few steps later and Jesus was in the multitude. The sea of humanity parted, moving back from the shore, jostling each other and unwilling to give up a preeminent seat. Jesus motioned to a fisherman who was drifting not far from the bank to come in. After getting in the boat, they moved a short distance away and Jesus began to speak.

“That is quite a clever trick, really,” Witness said.

“How so?” Two Feather asked.

“Being a distance from shore like that turns the water into a megaphone so that all of these on the slope can hear what He says.”

An old tree, two sparrows, and almost a thousand people listened as the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world preached from a small fishing boat. Most had heard the words before. His sermons were often repeated and usually did not stray very far from a very simple message. Two Feather and Claude ate contentedly and listened as the morning passed. When Jesus stopped speaking, most of the crowd dispersed. But many made their way to Him and the two birds watched as He prayed. Witness chuckled softly with amusement at some private secret.

The afternoon was more than half gone by the time that Jesus and His disciples made their way up the slope and sat very near the base of the old acacia tree. They opened knaps and sacks and began to share lunch. Looking up at the tree behind Him, Jesus nodded at the two sparrows and then smiled.

Turning back to His disciples, He said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

“Look at the birds of the air,” He said nodding his head at the two sparrows, “for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Jesus laughed again and the old acacia chuckled wryly.

“What?” Claud asked.

“Shhh,” said Witness. “Wait.”

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

The group of disciples murmured and looked expectant, waiting for more. But Jesus leaned back and took a bite from a loaf of bread. His head turned and He smiled up at Two Feather and Claude with satisfaction. After more than an hour, the group got back to their feet and wandered back to the shoreline.

“Why did you laugh earlier?” Claude asked now that they were alone again.

“Look at the crowd,” Witness said. “He just gave them one of the keys to the kingdom of heaven but they don’t get it yet. Not even His disciples understand it.”

“Say what?” Claude asked.

The crowd was once more milling about, bumping into one another and trying to draw closer to Jesus and His disciples.

“The irony is that many of these same people were here the other day. They heard Him then, heard the same message, but have not changed,” Witness said.

“But -,” Two Feather started.

“Goats but – sheep don’t,” Witness said and then laughed, the sound was deep and seemed to come from very far away. “You two, as simple and as small as you are, understand more about faith than any hundreds of them put together. Sparrows are already experts at what humans struggle so hard to understand. That is why in His eyes those disciples have “little faith.” They think faith has everything to do with size and muscle and power but it doesn’t.

“Humans worry and struggle to understand the deep meaning of a concept that has no deep meaning. They wrestle against doubt as if it were some giant to be slain. Yet He told them how to defeat that giant. Doubt is not a living thing,” Witness said. “It is like the shadow of a cloud racing across the slope behind us. A shadow to be ignored. It is like fear. Before the day that Adam sinned and creation died, there was no fear. Only after. Doubt opened the door for fear and both of them entered together. Neither has dominion unless it is granted and that is what humans misunderstand. They are so quick give away dominion.

“You two, as insignificant as you are, have perfect faith because there is no doubt in you. Your expectation is to God the Father and you trust Him daily. What they have not yet figured out is that the chains that hold them back have no substance.

“You, Claude. Based on what Jesus said, what is the opposite of faith in God’s eyes?”

“Uh, worry eh,” the sparrow said.

“Exactly. If “all these things will be added,” then worry is actually meddling in God’s business where you don’t belong. It is so simple that even the mustard seed gets it.”

“And those are small,” Two Feather chuffed. “Give me caraway anytime. Plus caraway has a certain jenesequa that is delightful.”

“Big word for a little bird, eh,” Claude said.

“Shush,” Witness said suddenly as another bird flared to land on a rock near the trunk of the tree. The bird was gray and white with a scarlet band of feathers around its neck, and bigger than both sparrows put together. It starred up at the sparrows disdainfully, and then jumped skyward, spreading its wings once again. Without a backward glance, it headed out over the sea.

“What was that?” Claude asked as it flew away. “And why did it look at us that way? It felt like I was being measured.”

Witness laughed. “Gaviiformes/gaviidae/gavia stellata,” he said. “Sometimes called the Red-throated Loon. They are the Pharisees of the bird world and their self-inflated sense of superiority forces them to judge everyone they come across.”

“No faith?” Claude asked.

“And no humility,” Witness replied.

“I know where there is more caraway,” Two Feather said happily.

“Cool, eh.”

“Go ahead boys,” Witness said. “I’ll just wait here.”