At this point, you might be saying, "Okay, wait a minute. That's not quite a good comparison that you've drawn. Hannah wasn't really a drunk, and Mary wasn't really a whore, but the people who are invading my community with poison berries really are drunks, whores, liars, cheaters, adulterers, homosexuals, and more."
Fair enough. You're right. You're probably surrounded, right at this very moment, by real, honest-to-God sinners. (Or as you might be tempted to say, "less-than-honest-to-God sinners," since you're probably thinking about all the poison berries these unclean individuals are dropping in your beautiful garden.)
But let me ask you this: what if Mary was a whore? Would you be willing to throw out the beautiful songs that she sings to the Lord? Would you be willing to turn away from the heart that she puts on prominent display? Would you say that Mary has no testimony at all, if her testimony is not the mother of Jesus? (Since, of course, if Mary was a whore, then the child within her would not be the one conceived by the Holy Spirit. This child would not be Jesus, and Mary would not be His mother.) If Mary is not the mother of Jesus, is she then nobody? She is still a faithful Jew. She still knows the worship of the temple. She still attends all the festival days, offers the proper sacrifices, sings out from her heart. She may even still believe, and live like she believes, every promise of God. Are you really willing to call her a thornbush?
I can't help but think about all the beautiful gifts that sinners have given me in my walk with God, all the amazing things they have taught me. All the good fruit that I've picked from their trees. And I think about how quickly others in the Christian community are to write these sinners off because these Christians care more about rotten apples than they do good fruit. And that's sad.
And I can't help but think about my own rotten fruit. I'm a sinner, too. Did you know that? I am selfish sometimes, self-centered at other times. Some days, I struggle to love people well; some days, I struggle to love them at all. Sometimes, my pride gets the best of me. Sometimes, I wish I had more in my life. Some days, I look at you with jealous eyes, wishing I had some of the same things that you have. Some days, I wrestle with my own purity. Sometimes, I wish I was either a little more broken or a little more clean, but the only one of those I can truly offer myself is more brokenness; I cannot make myself clean. So sometimes, I choose brokenness. Sometimes, I intentionally choose brokenness.
Am I a thornbush? Is everything I offer out of my life nothing more than poison berries?
I hope not. I honestly hope not. I honestly hope that I have something more to offer, that others look at me and see a tree that is firmly rooted in good soil, a branch that is firmly grafted onto the vine. I hope they are drawn by the bright colors of good fruit to come a little closer. And maybe, maybe a little closer, they see all the little bugs. Maybe they see some of the dying leaves. Maybe they see some of the buds that never quite opened. Maybe they see every single flaw that there is with this tree. But at least...at least they know there's fruit here. Real fruit.
And I pray that we could do this with each other, with every single one among us. I'm not saying there are not real thornbushes out there; there are. But they're not mere sinners. Thornbushes are deceivers, not strugglers. They profess a God they don't believe in, or they twist the real God into their brambles so He comes out contorted. That's not what sinners are doing. Sinners are believing in a God they don't profess, longing for a God they don't proclaim. That's the difference. The people you have to be aware of are the people whose God does not line up with their lives, not those whose lives do not line up with their God.
Maybe they are really drunks. Or whores. Or liars. Or cheaters. Or adulterers. Or homosexuals. Or whatever. But they might just also be God's drunks, whores, liars, homosexuals.... They might just also be trees, not thornbushes. And they might have real fruit to offer.
It's okay. Pick that fruit. It's not poison.
Just steer clear of rotten apples.