and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. - Romans 11
It's hard to know where to begin today. There's this whole post I want to share about the dinner Andrew treated me to last night at an amazing Tuscan restaurant. But then, today, we went deep into the countryside to help with the olive harvest.
We arrived around noon and joined the Giovanni Ammirabiles family for lunch. It was classic Italian, twelve of us around a long kitchen farmhouse table with this HUGE bowl of pasta, and bread, and olive oil produced right there on the premises, and table wine the Ammirabiles had made from their own grapes.
Then we head out to the olive grove to pull the fruit from the trees with small rakes. The olives, red, purple, green and black, cascade onto the parachute material laid out under the branches. Some workers climb into the trees on ladders, others harvest the lower limbs. Even the four-year-old twins poke at the trees with plastic rakes. It's a community experience, stories and laughter shout out between the rows.
The Ammirabiles have 1,600 trees and all the work is done by hand. Olives that miss and lay on the dirt are left there, because the family take meticulous care to guard the purity of their oil.
BELONGING: Halfway through the afternoon Giovanni, the head of the family, calls me away from my work and leads me across the road to another grove. "Here Derek," he says in the musical lilt of his Italian accent, "I have this to show you..."
So we make our way through some of the adjacent vineyard until we reach another stand of olive trees. "Here," he says, gesturing at a gnarled old specimen, "What do you see?" I notice right away that the fruit is different.
"These olives are small," I say. "I guess they are no good?"
"Useless," he replies. "But I keep this tree, just one among 1,600, to remind me about Romans Eleven." Giovanni cups the fruit in his weathered hand. "If I graft this branch on to this good tree..." He gestures at the adjacent tree, full with ripe, plump, olives... "If I graft him - even here - the fruit is still small and it is still not of the right quality...." He waits to see that the wheels in my mind are beginning to turn before he continues. "But you see, the message of Romans Eleven is not about production, it is a promise about belonging...."
The promise of Jesus is not about production, it is good news about belonging.
I returned to the grove we were harvesting, and I worked hard for a couple more hours. But I kept thinking about Giovanni's lesson. So much of our approach to life is geared to production, even the way that we do church. But the message we have to offer the world, the Good Story we invite others to participate in, it is a message about belonging.
God sent Jesus so that we would be engrafted into the family. It is a story of invitation. It is a story of belonging. It is the story of Jesus.
"Ciao" from Italy - DEREK