Bologna, Apples and Prayer (by Len Winneroski)

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”  Matthew 13:31-32, NIV

“Can I help you make the sandwiches, Papa?” Joey stood across from his grandfather, up on his tip toes, barely able to see over the kitchen counter. The old man took four slices of white bread out of the bag and placed them on a cutting board.

Looking at the redheaded young boy, he replied, “Do we want peanut butter and jelly or bologna?”  “Bologna!” Joey shouted then turned and raced to the refrigerator.  “I’ll get the mustard, Papa!”

Joey enjoyed being with his grandfather every Saturday afternoon while his parents went shopping in the city. His grandfather was a farmer and Joey loved to stay with him. They did so many interesting things together. Turning from the counter to face Joey, the whiskered old man asked, “Do you know where mustard comes from, Joey?” Papa was smiling and looking at him expectantly.

“From the store?” the boy replied. The freckle faced boy returned with a plastic yellow bottle of mustard and held it out to his grandfather. “You put it on hotdogs and bologna sandwiches,” he said. Joey’s grandfather took the mustard from him and then stepped over to the refrigerator to fetch the bologna from the top shelf. He returned to the cutting board and, looking at Joey, asked, “Do you know that Jesus liked mustard, too?”

The freckled boy had just pushed a chair up to the counter. After climbing up, he looked at his grandfather with wide eyes. “Did Jesus eat bologna sandwiches too, Papa?” “No, Joey, Jesus didn’t eat bologna sandwiches. But Jesus did say that mustard can teach us something important about heaven.”

Joey watched his grandfather squirt yellow circles on top of the bologna while his mind filled with questions. “Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed.”  His grandfather said.  Joey had never seen a mustard seed. And he wondered how a seed could teach him anything at all.

The seasoned old farmer said, “Jesus said that a man took a little mustard seed and planted it in the ground.” He smiled and held up his pointer finger and thumb, pinched together close to his eye, to show Joey just how tiny a mustard seed is. “Mustard is made from seeds?” Joey asked.  “Yes, son,” his grandfather replied. He pressed down with his knife across the pieces of bread, cutting the sandwiches into equal halves. “Wow…” Joey shook his head in amazement.

“Joey, why do you think Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed?”  His grandfather went to the cupboard and took out a bag of potato chips. The little boy wrinkled up his nose and thought for a moment.  “I don’t know, Papa, will you tell me?”

“Well, son, Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven to us, and when you believe in Him, that tiny seed of faith will cause you to grow into something quite magnificent in God’s eternal kingdom.” Joey started to frown until his grandfather continued.  “I’ve never planted a mustard seed, but I have grown lots of apple trees.”  The Grandfather grabbed a large red apple from the fruit bowl and cut it in half.  He used the tip of the knife to scoop out a single apple seed and handed it to the boy.

“Take this seed and let’s go out into the yard,” said the grandfather as he grabbed two halves of the bologna sandwich and started slowly towards the kitchen door. Joey followed his grandfather outside with the seed held tightly in his hand.  They walked silently from the old white farmhouse to the orchard that was behind it.  “Do you see all these apple trees, son?” said his grandfather stretching out his wrinkled hand in front of him.

Joey nodded yes, and looked at his grandfather. “Well, son, all these trees started out as a little seed like the one you’re holding in your hand.” Joey opened his hand and peered at the little seed. He fingered it and looked again at the rows of apple trees.

His grandfather said, “Jesus said that faith is like a seed that can start out real small and can grow into something as big as one of those trees over there.”

Joey smiled up at his grandfather. He wondered how long it would take before he could pick apples from the tree that would come from the seed in his hand.  “Seeds have to be planted in the ground,” continued the old man as he handed his grandson half of the bologna sandwich. Joey quickly put his seed into his pocked and took the sandwich.

His grandfather said, “First the roots grow beneath the ground and eventually a small green plant pokes up through the ground and grows toward the sunlight.” “And, I know what happens!” exclaimed the boy. “The tree grows until it is like one of those big trees over there.  And it makes apples, too! Right, Papa?” Joey took a big bite of his bologna sandwich.

“That’s right,” said the old man as he took a bite of his own sandwich.  “Do you know what else? I think that prayer is kind of like the roots of one of those old apple trees, Joey; you can’t see the roots of the tree, but without the roots there would be no tree. The roots feed the tree everything it needs to grow, and the roots keep the tree from being blown over during a windy storm.”  When we talk to God in prayer, we will grow up strong in Him. And our prayers, like the roots of a tree, will keep us safe and sure when trouble comes our way.

“I saw the roots of a tree once, Papa!” Joey took the last bite of his sandwich.  “They are all dangly and real long,” he said with a mouthful of food.  His grandfather said, “The roots keep growing just like the rest of the tree. They have to be strong to keep the tree anchored. Did you know that Jesus prayed to His Father all the time and He told us to pray to be strong? In fact, when we pray, eventually we will see results, just like a young green plant poking up from the ground.”

“I get it, Grandpa!” said the boy as pulled the apple seed from his jeans pocket and studied it again. He said, “Prayer is like the roots and the tree is like our lives.” The grandfather bent down and picked up his small grandson and hugged him tightly.  He exclaimed, “Jesus said that the secrets of the kingdom of heaven would be revealed to children. And, so, it is with you.”

The boy placed his head on his Grandfather’s chest and listened as he thought about everything his grandfather had taught him.  “Papa?” “Yes child,” the old man whispered, holding his grandson close to himself. “I think that you are like one of those big apple trees.” Snuggled in his Papa’s arms, Joey could hear his grandfather’s heartbeat. He added, “I want to grow up to be a big tree just like you, like the one Jesus talked about.”

His grandfather smiled broadly and set his grandson down on his feet. He said, “That you will be. And, now, let’s find a good spot to plant that small apple seed of yours. We better not put it too close to the others because it will grow to be very big one day.”

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