There are some very good stories in the Bible that clearly demonstrate what happens when we are too quick to judge the fruit that someone else is producing in their life, when we are too quick to write off good trees as thornbushes.
One of those stories is Hannah. Another one is Mary.
Hannah is the heartbroken, barren wife of Elkanah who visits the temple in 1 Samuel 1. Although her husband loves her dearly and gives her a special portion of the sacrifice, she is terribly distressed over her inability to provide for him a child. So this particular year, during the festival, she goes into the Temple (it wasn't really the Temple at this point, but a makeshift one) to pray. She allows her heart to lead her, and she prays what we can imagine is one of the most heartfelt, most authentic prayers of all the Bible.
And the priest, Eli, is watching her.
He's watching her as she pours her heart out before God, as her body sort of moves around a little bit with all the emotion that's pent up inside of her. He watches quiet tears stream down her face. He watches, and the account tells us this, her lips move, but no sound comes out. And he draws the only conclusion that he can: she must be drunk. And he calls her on it.
"Get out of here! You're drunk!" In other words, "Hey thornbush! Get you and your poison berries out of this Temple. Don't you know that this is the house of the living God? You are an embarrassment."
Except she wasn't. She wasn't drunk; she was perfectly sober. She was no thornbush, and these were no poison berries that she brought before God. She was no embarrassment; she's an amazing example.
Thankfully, Hannah had it within her to stand up and declare herself. "Sir, I am not drunk, and I am no embarrassment. I am a heartbroken woman, crying out to my God. I have just prayed the most amazing prayer, and if God would only hear me...." Not everyone has the strength to do this. Not one time, not for the twentieth time. We have persons among us who, at some point, will just stop standing up and saying they are anything more. We will tell them they are a thornbush, and they will believe us, even if they just grew the most amazing fruit we've ever seen.
Imagine the Bible without the testimony of this so-called "drunk." Imagine the stories of the judges without this "thornbush." Imagine if we wrote Hannah off as poison berries and ignored her son, Samuel.
And then there's Mary, or even Rahab, if we want to go back further. Both were women with reputations for sexual impurity - Mary's undeserved; Rahab's very much deserved. It's more difficult to talk about Rahab in this context because we don't really have any testimony in the Bible of anyone wanting to write her off for her acts; she is always treated favorably in the Scriptures, even though she is freely called a whore. Mary, on the other hand....
Mary becomes pregnant young and out of wedlock. Even her husband, Joseph, initially thinks he's going to have to burn this bush down. There are no berries more poison in all the world than the berries of infidelity, and they aren't even married yet! No cows have been exchanged, and his future wife is already cheating on him. He makes plans to divorce her quietly, as the whole town begins to whisper about this uncouth young lady. Devout Jew or not, Mary's history cannot save her from her present. She's a whore, plain and simple, and nothing good can come from a whore.
But the angel of the Lord intervened and came to her husband-to-be in her defense. The angel of the Lord revealed what was up, what was going on within the womb of this young woman. God Himself changed Joseph's heart, and even though it didn't stop the whispers, it stopped him. Even though it didn't change everyone's mind, it changed his. He probably still thought these might be poison berries, but he was willing to hedge his bets that it might also be good fruit.
Not everyone would be even this generous, even with the reassurance of God Himself.
Can you imagine, though, the Bible without its whores? Without, specifically, this whore? Where does the story of God go if we just write Mary off, if we determine that nothing good, nothing godly, can come from her? She's a whore! She has nothing to say to us about our holy God.
Except she does.
But this is the very real danger we face when we try to figure out what kind of fruit someone else is producing. It's far too easy for us to look at the surface, to draw out the one thing that might make this not such good fruit, and ignore the testimony not only of the lives of these individuals, but of the God who speaks about them. Hannah was the faithful, beloved wife. She came to the Temple/festival every year with her husband, her husband's other wife, and her husband's other wife's kids. If ever there was a woman who was steadfast in her duty, it was Hannah. And yet, she prays without making a noise (prays, mind you. There was never any question as to whether or not she was actually praying here), and the priest calls her a drunk a tries to throw her out. He totally writes her off, forgetting and forsaking the overall testimony of who she is, and the steady example of her heart toward God.
Mary was "highly favored" by the Lord - the angel says that much. She also happens to be pregnant with a story that nobody can believe. But she knows the Scriptures, knows them well. She sings beautiful praises to God. She offers appropriate sacrifices at appropriate occasions. She is faithful, beautiful, and marvelous in every other aspect of her worship. But if all we ever think of Mary is that she is "that whore," that unwed mother, that teen pregnant out of wedlock...those poison berries, then we miss the very good fruit that she produces. We end up giving up everything, even Christ Himself, because we cannot get past the way this one thing looks.
What a tragedy.
And yet, we are doing this everyday. It's a little different, or so it seems, because Hannah was not really a drunk and Mary was not really a whore, but those we spend our time judging really are liars and cheaters and adulterers and murderers and fakes and phonies and homosexuals and.... So it's a little different.
Or is it?