Rotten Bananas, Bent Humans, and Delicious Grace
I have always loved banana bread.
I am still unsure why they call it “bread” because in taste, texture, and calories, it functions more like a cake. Banana bread is not only a snack or dessert but is also a metaphor for what God can do with questionable ingredients.
As most bakers know, the key ingredient in banana bread is the rotten banana. Not ripe, but rotten. Not yellow, but brown. Not firm, but mushy. Not smooth, but slimy. Brown, mushy, slimy, and rotten must go into the mixing bowl if the banana bread is going to be what it is meant to be. When all that is brown, mushy, slimy, and rotten is mixed and warmed with sweeter, more savory ingredients such as sugar, salt, butter, and flour, it eventually comes out as a melt-in-your-mouth masterpiece.
God creates a similar kind of goodness from the “ingredient” of sinners who have become self-aware, humbled, and contrite regarding their most rotten realities. This includes sinners like the once adulterous, murderous David who prayed:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1-2)
Famously, the heading to this prayer is addressed to the director of music as a Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet confronted David about his adulterous abuse of Bathsheba. At the time of their sexual encounter, Bathsheba was married to one of David’s most loyal friends and soldiers, Uriah the Hittite, whom David would subsequently murder after discovering that Bathsheba was pregnant with his child.
Centuries later, the Gospel of Matthew mentions David’s “slimy rotten” predatorial, power-abusing, libido-ingratiating sin in the family tree of Jesus where we read, “Jesse [was] the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah …” (Matthew 1:6, emphasis mine)
This same David wrote nearly half of the Psalms. He is the one about whom God would later say, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” (Acts 13:22) Most notably, he is also the one that the New Testament writers had in mind when they repeatedly called Jesus “the Son of David.”
If you have ever doubted Jesus’s love, affection, and never-give-up love for you, are you willing to reconsider? Will you start by moving just one inch closer to him, and see what happens? Sometimes if you give Jesus one inch of your trust, he will respond by giving you a hundred miles of kindness. Sometimes if you give Jesus one thimble full of pleading, he will return to you an ocean full of compassion and care.
Another fun fact: If you ever find yourself wishing that you could know Jesus more, that you could walk more closely with him, and that you could receive his mercies anew, do you realize that the very fact that you wish for these things is a sign that his favor is already upon you? Any desire that is in you to know him, no matter how small, is evidence of his immeasurable desire to have and hold you. Any nudging you may feel to be close to him, no matter how timid, is a sign that he has taken a leap in your direction. He leapt all the way from heaven to earth to be with you.
Poor, wretched, sinner-sufferer, don’t ever think that you are too poor or too wretched to belong to Jesus. Where your sin abounds, his grace always super-abounds. Once we see this, we’ll also see God bearing meaningful fruit through us.
As pastor Rick Warren once said, “In God’s garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruit.”
There is no more significant garden of God’s grace than the Garden at Gethsemane. It was in Gethsemane that Jesus pleaded with his Father to spare him of the “cup” of suffering he was about to bear on the cross for the forgiveness of sins committed by the likes of the nation of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and us. There, the Bridegroom prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
As we now know in retrospect, it was the Father’s will to crush his only begotten Son, so that he would never have any need to crush us: “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring … the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied … (making) many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:10-11)
Jesus, the Son of David, willingly became the Suffering Servant so that David and all who are like him might not only be spared but turned into a sweet offering of his grace to a weary, hungry world. This was, and this remains, the chief end of a covenant that was made before time began between God the Father and God the son. The prophet Ezekiel describes it as God’s “covenant of peace,” which is an everlasting covenant that, like God’s vows of betrothal and marriage to his sometimes-straying people, can never be reversed or undone.
The language of covenant may sound old-fashioned, but the dialog between the Father and Son captures powerfully the nature—and profound cost—of the covenant of peace. The covenant is pictured honorably, beautifully, and compellingly by the Puritan pastor and writer, John Flavel:
Father: My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice. Justice demands satisfaction for them or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them. What shall be done for these souls?
Son: Oh my Father, such is my love and pity for them that, rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety. Bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee. Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them. At my hand thou shalt require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it. Upon me, Father, upon me be all their debt.
Father: But my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last cent. Expect no discounts. If I spare them, I will not spare thee.
Son: Content, Father. Let it be so. Charge it all to me. I am able to pay it. And though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, yet I am content to undertake it.
It turns out that the reason God can set the bar so low for us is that he set it so high for Jesus, who cleared the bar on our behalf. Now, everything rotten, decimated, or even dead thing in our lives can be made alive again. Everything in us that has been lost can be found again. Every place in us that has been starved for food, family, and love can be filled again. The Father watches and waits for his prodigals to return Home.
Knowing this to be true, how can we delay for another moment?
If God can make glory out of a rotten banana, imagine what he can make of us.
This is an adapted excerpt from Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen: How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans by Scott Sauls. Scott is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of several books.