A couple of days ago, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets), we had our first rainfall of the season, and both of us were giddy with excitement as the rain came down. It wasn’t a whole lot of precipitation, but enough to give the air that wonderful “it just started raining” smell. Summers are long here, so we weren’t the only ones celebrating the earliest taste of what we hope will be a very wet winter, one which might bring an end to the drought which Israel has endured for the past five years.
In Israel, there are three types of rain: early rains, regular winter rains and latter rains. The first early-rain normally happens near the time of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), which follows two weeks after Rosh Hashanah; the latter rains usually end by April. So typically from the month of April until the month of October, we don’t see a drop of rain. Everyone we know here was surprised at how early the first downpours happened, especially because this year the High Holy Days (Feast of Trumpets, Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles) are occurring very early, starting in early September and finishing even before the month of October begins. So, we’re nearly four weeks early! It’s like an invited guest appearing at your front door four hours early—you’re glad to see them, but a good bit surprised that they are already at your door.
The early rain—and the surprise which everyone expressed at the unexpected showers—reminds me of a superfood called “freekeh.” This is green, not-quite-ripe wheat that is harvested before the fields turn “white for harvest.” Of course, only in places like America is it considered a “superfood,” which is just a marketing ploy that suppliers use to charge you a small fortune to include this grain in your diet. Here in Israel and throughout the Levant—where freekeh has been harvested and eaten for about 2,500 years—it’s just considered “food.” It is surprisingly tasty—as long as it’s prepared properly.
(Actually, it makes me wonder if that wasn’t what Luke was describing when the disciples got called out by the Pharisees for walking through a wheat field on Shabbat, picking heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands and eating the kernels. The word “freekeh” does come from the verb “to rub together…”)
We are all familiar with Jesus’ famous quote, ”Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” I’ve always had the notion that he was saying that all of the crop was already ripe, i.e. that all peoples and nations are ready to receive the gospel of the kingdom. But recently, I wonder if that understanding might not be correct. Maybe Jesus was telling his disciples that there were portions of the crop that were already ready to be harvested, if they only had eyes to see. It was as if Jesus was telling his future church-leaders-in-training to go ahead and harvest the part of the crop that was ready—the “freekeh,” so to speak.
Since that time, the church has been laboring in plots of land around the world. Some of those fields have had good soil, and so they have been producing bumper crops year after year. Other fields have been sown over the centuries, but the ground has been mostly paths, rocks and thorns. Many fields have been so remote that they couldn’t be sown easily. These last two examples are the places where—in the past—the workers have been few. But now most of the Christian missions world is focusing its attention in these areas.
We’ve been harvesting the freekeh, because we’ve only experienced the early rains so far. But the drought will soon be coming to a close and the latter rains will soon come—if in fact they are not already “appearing at our front door.”
Are we ready to gather in a harvest when the latter rains begin?
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” Revelation 7:9