Culled By Society, Selected of the Lord…
The summer of my 22nd year I spent mostly working in a packinghouse in Sanger, California. It was a place where I could work long hours, six days a week, and earn a good wage in preparation for university study. A few weeks earlier I had started dating a young woman by the name of Monica Maleksalehi. Although our relationship was not yet serious, my heart was set on her, and as she spent the entire summer in New Zealand on a foreign educational exchange, long hours, and good pay were just the prescription for my needs.
One of the advantages of working at a packinghouse was access to all the good fruit I wanted to eat. In packing, fruits go through conveyors and various sorting processes. The sorters look through every piece of a harvest as it goes by on the conveyors and remove less desirable fruit, the culls. Some may be removed because they are under or overripe, but mostly the sorters are taking out undersized, oddly shaped, or scarred crop. Only the prettiest fruit, that which looks best on the outside, makes it beyond sorters and into boxes to be sent to market. That is supposed as what we as consumers desire, the prettiest and most perfectly shaped piece of fruit.
I learned in my growing up in agriculture, and in the packinghouse, that the prettiest piece of fruit does not always yield the best taste. As a matter of fact, the culls are often the very best tasting and most enjoyable for fresh eating, pie making, canning and jellies. It is hard to beat the savor of a piece of fruit that expended all of its life energy creating a perfect taste and nutritional value, as opposed to only a perfect appearance.
Even the birds know the best fruit. When a piece of fruit is ripe and sweetened to perfection the birds know it and begin to peck at it. That is why a lot of the best fruit is marred. Late in spring when our cherries are ripening on our trees it is a race between us and the birds as to who can get the cherries first when they are ripened to perfection. The birds get their share, but so do we.
As the most beautiful fruit was reserved for market, and the culls were essentially worthless, packinghouse owners allowed employees to take home all the discards we wanted. I spent many of the few off hours I had that summer checking in on Monica’s mother, where we canned a lot of culled peaches and grapes, and made many batches of delicious plum jelly. I enjoyed that harvest of culled, less aesthetically pleasing fruit, for many years to come, and into mine and Monica’s eventual and joyous marriage.
As the Lord said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). What does it matter how we look from the outside if within we are tasteless, dark, rotting or spoiled?
In the book of Luke, we read of a man named Zacchaeus. In Jericho he was chief among the publicans (tax collectors), was looked down upon by many including religious leaders, and he was a very rich man. The assumption was that because he was wealthy, he must have been dishonest in his tax collecting, not that pious and nationalist society approved of publicans in the first place. In the case and character of Zacchaeus, society was mistaken.
Zacchaeus was a man short in stature. When he learned that Jesus was passing through town he wanted to see him very badly, but the crowds made it impossible at his height. He climbed a sycamore tree so that he could behold with his own eyes the Master. “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, ‘Zacchæus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.’ And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully” (Luke 19:5-6).
Many of his day unrighteously judged Zacchaeus to be dishonest because of his wealth and occupation as a publican. A lot of that type of thinking came from hypocrites who were attempting to hide their own evil by projecting it on another. Appearances can certainly be deceiving, especially when those projecting the appearance upon another are deceitful. Indeed, what does it matter how we appear from the outside if our true self is pure and beautiful on the inside where it really matters? The taste and wholesomeness of a piece of fruit is much more important than its outward appearance. Zacchaeus may have been culled by society, but he was pleasing and delightsome to the Lord. That is good enough for me.
In a similar vein, I have found it peculiar that some are bothered when hearing the story of the fig tree that Christ cursed and caused to wither, as if some injustice had been committed against that tree. I believe that the lesson taught was worth the withering. The question we must ask ourselves is, “What good is a fruit tree when we are hungry if it bears no fruit?” It is like the salt that has lost its savor, spice that has no taste, and is therefore good for nothing but to be trodden under foot (Matthew 5:13). That was the spiritually nutritional worth of the teachings of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes in the days of Jesus Christ. The fruit that they bore may have appeared pretty on the outside, but it was rotting and bitter, filled with toxins and worms, and therefore it was good for nothing. That is the fruit that comes from those who do not follow the Savior, but follow the prevailing breezes of corrupted society.
The branches of their trees bear no good fruit, and do not even provide reliable and enduring shade for the weary who need respite from a scorching sun. A tree that produces good fruit lives on to see another day, and spreads groves of seed for the benefit of generations to come. That which produces nothing beneficial is cut down, withered and burned, provides warmth for a short winter, but when its embers cool, it is gone forever.
So said Jesus, “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:19-20), or perhaps, by their lack of good fruit they shall never be known.
In ancient Israel there were small leather boxes called phylacteries which contained strips of parchment with written scripture. Using leather bands, the Jews would strap the boxes around their foreheads or arms for outward appearance as a display of piety and righteousness. This tradition harkens back to the days of Moses when the children of Israel were commanded to bind the words of God to themselves for a sign. We learn that in the days of Jesus, “Out of pride, the Pharisees wore unusually large phylacteries so that everyone would see how much they loved the word of God” (Come, Follow Me, 2019). Jesus condemned these practitioners as hypocrites, saying, “their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,…” (Matthew 23:5).
It is amazing to me that after two millennia there is still a society in Judea that puts on an outer shell of supposed righteousness even as did those who wore phylacteries in ancient times. When Monica and I were visiting Jerusalem in 2018 we observed prayer at the Wailing Wall. For us it was overall an awe inspiring and uplifting experience. However, we did note men who wore awkwardly large hats. It seemed the more humble of prayer givers, many bringing their young sons to worship with, wore simple yarmulkes or skullcaps. Then there were those with these extremely large and awkward box like structures upon their heads. We were taught that those were purchased to honor them by their family members as acknowledgment of how righteous and successful these individuals were. The bigger the hat, the more the honor. I am not judge of such men, but it seems that they have their reward. Even today, at a scene such as this, the Savior might say again, “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,…”
There are questions we might consider asking ourselves. How do we make broad our phylacteries, or what special hats do we wear that we might be noticed for our good works? Do we broadcast our good works that we might receive honor of men in our time? Do we at times think more in the reward we will receive for our good works than we do of the real purpose of doing good, charity, and loving God and man?
Zacchaeus was a good man. He put on no false fronts, except that perhaps he hid his own humility, for to be humble. But like pretty fruit that has no sweet taste, the fig tree that bore no fruit, and many religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the Savior saw through the outer appearance of fruitlessness and hypocrisy, yet in Zacchaeus He saw something better, so that day He abode with him in his house.
I suppose that we all wish to be pleasing to the eye, beautiful in appearance and image to those we meet, but if the choice is between pretty for hypocrites who really do not want the best I have to give, or something of real worth, I hope to be culled by society and selected of the Lord. Let us be known for our fruits, having pure sweetness of soul and nourishing goodness. The Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief knew the goodness of the man with whom he abided, called him by name, and blessed him. May the Savior see something better in us, as He did Zacchaeus, one day calling out our poor names seeking to abide in our homes, as we desire to abide with Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.