Several times a year my neighbour, Paul, gets together with his family for some traditional Italian activities: canning tomatoes, making wine, etc… My son, drawn to the activity like ants to a picnic, cannot resist taking part in the work. This year I thought I would wander over and see what was really going on.
Paul was working alone on the second pressing of his grapes. He informed me that if the second pressing is not added to the first, nothing will turn out right. (Don’t ask me if that is true… What do I know?) So, he had the semi-squeezed grapes in a wooden “barrel” with spaces between the slats. Then, meticulously, he began to put on the “top,” several blocks of wood, and then the actual ratchet mechanism. He placed a metal pole in the ratchet and began to move it slowly back and forth. Seemed easy.
Then, I realized that he had switched to a longer pole, and though the rhythm was the same, I could see that there was more effort involved. “Watch, he said.” After a few more strokes, purple-red juice began to leak out the sides and into the catch basin. He invited me to drink some, which I did, immediately wishing I hadn’t because it needed to go through the fermentation process. (Where in the world is my toothbrush?!?) It was all very fascinating and I enjoyed spending time getting to know my neighbour.
I have since, in a moment of stupidity, wondered what it would have been like to be the grapes.
“Hey! Wadda ya doin’?“
"This is getting’ hot and sticky in here!”
“Move over a bit will ya?”
“Ah, c’mon stop squeezin’. Wasn’t the first time enough? I hate it when he ignores me!”
Do grapes whine under pressure? I know I do. The first words out of my mouth when squeezed are "God… I hate…!” I’m pretty sure that I sound like Janis from Friends. And you know how annoying she is.
The weird thing about pressure when applied to people is that it:
1. squeezes stuff to the surface … you see what’s really inside, both good and bad
2. sometimes breaks people so they are more open or malleable to God
3. can form us into Christlikeness, into who we were created us to be
This is probably a good paradigm for what God does to us in life. As the saying goes,
“He loves us just the way we are. But he loves us too much to leave us as we are.”
Nice little saying. Difficult process.
The process of refining us, of bring out who we are, is rarely pleasant. God puts us in situations that push us, press us, and back us into corners where stuff comes out. This is illustrated, in an extreme way, in the lives of Joseph’s callous siblings. We all think of poor Joseph and the refining he went through. But we forget that the greater journey was taken by his brothers. If you remember, they sell Joseph into slavery. But over the years, they are living with the memory of what they did. There is the unspoken ghost of Joseph haunting the family. Their father’s grief is not wholly assuaged. He is a different man. More silent. More broken. They are pressed to such a degree that when Simeon is held in prison, their consciences blurt out that God is bringing them to account.
“Surely, we are being punished because of our brother…”
“Didn’t I tell you not to sin …now we must give an accounting [to God] for his blood.”
“What is this that God has done to us?”
“What can we say to my lord…What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants guilt.”
The massive weight of Heaven is relentlessly pressing down upon them. And under that gravity they are no longer the same people. Where once Reuben was concerned only with himself (“Where can I turn to now?”), he is now willing to risk his own children to get Simeon back. And Judah, once hard and calloused, is now willing to give his own life to free Benjamin and save his father the grief of another beloved son. God has squeezed them over the years and now is pressing them in to make different choices than they did with their younger brother. And this compression brings about the desired effect: they make different choices and are better people than they were. Just like Jacob in his decades away from home. Manipulated, mistreated, and on the run, he “struggles with God” like a cornered animal. Bowing himself and broken, he comes away limping, but a more godly individual. One more committed to the Lord.
Pressure. The Squeeze. Nobody likes the process. We wiggle, fight and protest. But if we don’t give up, He makes us better people.
Welcome to the Whinery.