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Apple Thieves, Switches, and I Love You

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Apple Thieves, Switches, and I Love You”

Year B, Proper 13 (RCL) August 3, 2003

The Rev. Philip R. Taylor, Deacon

Free Episcopal Church

Lessons:  Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. 27 When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.                                                                                                                                          1 But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him, “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. 2 The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. 3 The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him.                                                                   4 “One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”                                                                                                                               5 David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be lynched! 6 He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”                  7 “You’re the man!” said Nathan. “And here’s what God, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn’t been enough, I’d have gladly thrown in much more. 9 So why have you treated the word of God with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! 10 And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite’s wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. 11 This is God speaking, remember! I’ll make trouble for you out of your own family. I’ll take your wives from right out in front of you. I’ll give them to some neighbor, and he’ll go to bed with them openly. 12 You did your deed in secret; I’m doing mine with the whole country watching!”

13 Then David confessed to Nathan, “I’ve sinned against God.”[1]

Once, when I was a small boy, about 5 years old, I was playing with some of my cousins while staying at Grandma’s house for the summer.  Our Aunt Tot, visiting from Texas, had the unenviable task of keeping up with all of us cousins for a few weeks that summer.


Well, you see, there was this apple tree across the road in a neighbor’s yard.  Moreover, those were the sweetest apples you could imagine, especially because it was so hot outside, and we were just kids, and those particular apples were forbidden.  They were forbidden for three reasons.  First, the apple tree was across the road and we were not allowed to cross the road.  Second, they belonged to a neighbor and taking something, even a sweet apple, from a neighbor without permission was stealing.  Third, Aunt Tot had given us specific instructions not to leave the yard.


Well, you see, that was a situation that a group of kindred spirits, aged 5-9 could not leave untested.  So, off we went across the road, into the neighbor’s yard, up the tree, and my how sweet they did taste.  When we had our fill, we came back to Grandma’s yard and continued the running, chasing, and other assorted summertime activities for children of the year 1948.


It was not long until Aunt Tot appeared on Grandma’s porch and began her inquisition as to who had gone across the road, who had stolen the apples, and who had eaten the apples.  As I recall the next few minutes of that scene, there was a lot of finger pointing, screams of “I didn’t do it!” and punishment enough for all. 


We all knew the wrongs we had done, Aunt Tot made sure of that in the switches she applied to our shinny sun burned legs and in the lecture that followed.  I can still see the finger she wagged in our faces as she pronounced judgment.  On that hot summer day, not one of us escaped the finger pointed directly at our nose.  On that hot summer day, each one of us felt the sting of being found out and identified as personally responsible for all the apple thefts that had ever occurred throughout history. 


None of us then knew the story of Nathan’s accusation against King David from 2 Samuel.  Our rural Baptist Sunday School had skipped over that part of the story where the great king of Israel had committed murder and adultery.  If we had known the story, we certainly could have identified with ‘Brother’ David.  Aunt Tot was about as good a Nathan impersonator as you could scare up on a hot summer afternoon in rural Virginia.


When she had finished the punishment of switches and a stern lecture, she did something that still brings tears to my eyes.  She took each one of us in her arms, held us tight to her chest, kissed the tears from our cheeks and said she loved us and was sorry she had been so stern.  We all sat on Grandma’s porch for a long time that hot summer afternoon, none of us said very much, all of us cried a little, including Aunt Tot, and I learned that love and punishment are often and mysteriously intertwined.


You must be wondering how a five-year-old child could possibly remember all that stuff from 55 years ago.  That is an easy question to answer.  Every summer since 1948, some one of the cousins or Aunt Tot has retold the story.  I guess I have been to a dozen or more family reunions over the years and that particular ‘apple theft’ story is always told.  It has become part of the folklore and family history for several generations of the Isabell’s. 


Has the story changed and been improved over the years?  It certainly has.  The one thing that all of the ‘cousins’ agree on, however, is that Aunt Tot loved us dearly.  Other than our own parents, all of the ‘guilty cousins’ from that summer loved her best, too.  She lived far away in Texas and we only saw her every ten years or so when she came to Virginia for a visit.  However, she had taught us about punishment and love.  She had taught us that love wipes away tears, that love eases the pain of a switch on the legs, and that sitting on the porch, even when surrounded by ‘apple thieves’, could make for an unforgettable moment in time.


And what does all that have to do with the lessons for Year B, Proper 13, as found in the Revised Common Lectionary?  I really do not know the answer to that.  However, when I read 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, I remembered Aunt Tot and how much I loved her and I just wanted to tell someone.


Francis Ellen Isbell, Aunt Tot, was born on a hot summer day in July 1917.  She left this life for the next, 5 years ago this past April.  I have no doubt that she has told her version of the ‘great apple caper’ to all the angels of heaven.  May she rest in peace.


My prayer for us all is that amid the sins of our lives and the accusations of our ‘Nathans’ that we also get to experience forgiveness, love, and someone like my Aunt Tot to kiss our tears away.  Amen.



[1]Peterson, E. H. (2003). The Message : The Bible in contemporary language (2 Sa 11:26-12:13). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.

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