Imagine that a well-known garden expert decides to pay a visit to Holme and Burton. Whose garden would he want to see? Perhaps you can think of a few gardens that would top his list – filled with carefully-chosen plants, lovingly and expertly cared for. Perhaps you would hope that he would choose to drop in on your garden. But we’re assuming that this expert would be coming to enjoy the very best gardens and praise their hard-working creators. We might instead be shocked to find that he preferred to visit my garden where grass and bushes are barely under control and weeding means getting out the strimmer. What if the expert only wanted to see gardens like mine – the least well-kept gardens with the most weeds? Perhaps we would then have to change our mind and conclude that he had not come to praise good gardeners but to help bad gardeners and to transform our wastelands into something much better.
Saul made a similar mistake. It’s clear from the Bible that he assumed that the long-awaited Messiah would come to praise the efforts of Pharisees like him whose well-manicured lives displayed the fruit of living according to the best rules and traditions. This led Saul to conclude that Jesus was definitely not the one they were waiting for – he seemed to seek out those whose lives were obviously not going well, those who were struggling to keep the weeds down and who knew that there was nothing praiseworthy about their lives. But Jesus had not come to hand out prizes – he rolled up his sleeves and got to work rescuing wastelands. It took the famous encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road to convince Saul that he had been so wrong about Jesus and wrong to think that he did not need Jesus’ help. His pride was gone; in its place a deep gratitude that Jesus had shown him such kindness.
He wrote later, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
What might the Gardener do with your life?