“Now it happened that Jesus was passing through some grain fields on a Sabbath, and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them… ” Luke 6:1
The side of this story we most often hear, is the punch line - how the Pharisees criticized the disciples for “working” on the sabbath. They argued that rubbing the kernels between their hands was akin to harvesting the wheat. It’s not the part that jumps out at me. I am struck with the image of the disciples doing what regular people do when they wander through a wheat field. I know because I’ve done it.
Wheat kernels emit that musty smell when you rub off the chaff. I can recall the feel of them between my palms. It’s one of those things you do instinctively as a kid in a farm community. In the fall, bringing in the harvest was on everyone’s mind and some kids would be absent from school because of it. What kind of year everyone would get was determined month by month as people looked toward the skies and breathed a sigh of relief once the harvest was in. If you don’t think talking about the weather is important, visit a farm community around August.
I know the smell of wheat. It makes me think of a certain angle of the sun, blue clear skies, and hot sun. Before the days where machines rolled hay into circular bundles, bailing machines formed the hay into large rectangles left scattered across the field. Haying was the hard job of collecting all those bales of hay.
It’s work that required honest sweat and physical stamina. You knew farm kids from their muscles. Haying meant running behind a pickup truck and throwing up bales of hay for the guy in the truck bed to catch. You would be sweating, choking on hay dust, with a rash on your chest and bleeding hands cut by the raw twine. You didn’t want to be the guy running and throwing on the ground. You really wanted to be the guy with the cushy ride in back of the truck.
Haying brings to mind pictures of Saskatchewan, of an endless horizon bounded by wheat fields, harvest machinery and men in bib overalls with sweaty handkerchiefs stuffed into the front pockets. Being a little kid around all this, was magic because you were given rudimentary jobs like running water to keep you out from underfoot. Your presence was tolerated and you felt like part of a great big something in the adult world. Any kid running around in a wheat field soon finds out about wheat gum. You rub the green wheat husks between your palms, chew on the kernels and eventually you are left with a ball of gluten in your mouth called wheat gum.
People who share this kind of childhood memory have also likely walked a railway track in bare feet blackened with creosote dust, and when they heard a train coming, placed a penny on the track to see it get squished flat. Stories of this kind resonate. They come from a common well of human experience that has its basis in the everyday. If you are trying to make a point, tell a story. It beats the hell out of any sophisticated argument. It’s a graph and pie chart sized down to what human beings know.
It’s what makes Bible stories credible to me. The images resound with the way regular people tell stories. They drop in little tidbits that sound true because they are the kind of things people really do. A made up account never has the same ring of truth.
I love that the Bible is a revolutionary book for the common man. Written by farmers and fishermen about the visiting carpenter in their midst. In between trading stories, they compared scars and blisters and made the gospel story real for the rest of us.
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