Someone else’s ‘tomatoes’ could change your life


Things are not always as they seem.

Consider Charlie who was mid-year in high school when he went to live with relatives in another state.

Charlie’s great-aunt and uncle didn’t ask any questions. They welcomed Charlie and enrolled him in school. He turned out to be a huge help, climbing step-stools and ladders for anything they couldn’t reach.

Great Uncle Albert was nearly 80. He’d stopped working years earlier, his eyes failing him. But Great Aunt Alice, at 70, was still the town judge and busy.

“What’s that?” Alice said one evening as the three sat on the patio. She pointed toward plants growing along the fence.

“Tomatoes,” Charlie answered.

Albert stood and tottered toward the fence. He bent down and lifted his thick-paned glasses.

“They sure are, Alice,” he said. “The boy’s got your green thumb.”

That night, Charlie quietly moved those ‘tomato’ plants to a high sunny window inside the garden shed.

The next morning, he stopped his aunt on her way to work. “If you need anything in the shed, I’ll get it for you. Don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“That’s a good boy,” Albert said and Alice nodded.

The following morning, Saturday, was for roses — Alice’s favorite flower. She was out front tending them when a familiar car stopped.

“Yes, Hubert.” Alice knew the troubled boy from court. He was also the grandson of her next-door neighbor.

“Judge,” he said, grinning. “How’s it going?”

Alice straightened in her prim fashion, eyeing him. “Fine.”

“Money tight?” he asked

“What?” Alice frowned.

“Just wondering.”

“What’re you talking about, Hubert?”

“Your shed.” He started laughing.

“What about my shed?”

“There’s marijuana growing in the window.”

That’s when Alice realized she’d been had. Charlie, arriving mid-school year, was there for a reason.

But this story is nothing compared to one of the greatest feats of trickery in Scripture. It happened some 3,000 years ago, perpetrated by a man of the cloth—Elisha.

Syria was at war with Israel at that time. And Israel always seemed to know what Syria was up to.

“Which of you is for the king of Israel?” the Syrian king finally asks his advisors; certain he has a mole.

“It’s Elisha,” one responds. “He knows the words uttered in your bedroom.”

How was that possible? Elisha knew from God what to do and kept telling the Israelite king when to flee the stronger Syrians.

The Syrian king then shouts, “Go get that prophet!”

And his army is off, quickly encircling the city where Elisha is staying. When the prophet’s servant arises, he sees the army and hurries to Elisha.

“What shall we do?” he says.

Elisha looks out and famously answers, “Those who are with us are more than those against us.”

Elisha prays for his servant’s eyes to be opened, and the man sees the mountain filled with horses and chariots of fire — an army of angels.

Even so, the prophet isn’t interested in a holy battle. As the Syrian army descends toward him, Elijah prays for the soldiers to be struck blind.

God does it.

Then Elisha quickly offers the Syrian general assistance. “I will lead you to the man you seek.”

Without so much as a question, the whole blind army follows the prophet. You can guess what happens. Elisha leads them, stops, and prays for their eyes to be opened. The Syrians then find themselves surrounded by the Israelite army.

“Do I kill them?” the Israelite king asks Elisha.

No. Elisha has other plans.

On that day, every Syrian soldier is served a great feast and then released. Scripture says thereafter the Syrians no longer harm Israel. (2 Kings 6:8-23)

It’s a great turn of events for the Hebrews but not for everyone. A Syrian general probably faced early retirement that day.

My mom often cautioned me with these words: “Know who you’re with.”

She wanted me to choose my friends carefully. To ask questions and pay attention — something one old couple and a great military man failed to do.

Always know what’s growing by the fence. Someone else’s ‘tomatoes’ could change your life.

The Rev. R.A. Mathews is a faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God.” The story of Charlie is a parable; any resemblance to persons or events is unintentional. Copyright © 2018, 2021 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared on The Star: Someone else’s ‘tomatoes’ could change your life


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