$100 Japanese Muskmelons and Abiding With Christ
When Westerners talk about fruit it is typically in quantitative terms. Farmers hope for a bumper crop and consumers want cheaper prices. Taste is secondary for most folks because fruit is fruit, right? But in Japan, fruit is judged by its quality — its appearance, smell, and taste. And quantity follows quality. Japanese fruit farmers are craftsmen who shape their products with meticulous care. Fruit is a luxury item in Japan which is sold for luxury prices. This can lead visiting Westerners who stumble into a fruit store to respond like this guy:
From Densuke watermelons worth a few thousand dollars to a bunch of Ruby Roman grapes selling for $10,000, international media companies are always highlighting Japan’s expensive tastes in fruit. The king of fruit in Japan is the muskmelon, a pair of which recently sold for over $25,000. A muskmelon is a version of a cantaloupe but its coloring is more like a honeydew. I would love to tell you about the flavor, but I’ve yet to have the stomach to drop a minimum of $30 for a subpar melon (the good ones start at $100)!
What fascinates me about this melon, though, is its cultivation. Muskmelons are only grown in a few areas in Japan, the most famous are the Yubari King (from Yubari, Hokkaido) and the Shizuoka (from, you guessed it, Shizuoka). The perfect Shizuoka melon is called a “Fuji” in honor of the great mountain located in the same prefecture. Farmers estimate only 3% of their already small crop may be classified as “Fuji” melons. These melons are not grown in the wild; they are handcrafted with the same meticulous care that Japanese craftsmen are famous for.
Everything must be perfect. Farmers utilize the best of computer technology to create perfect growing temperatures in greenhouses. The soil’s moisture is monitored constantly to ensure maximum sweetness and flavor. These melons are grown in even rows on vines exactly the same height, which are pollinated by hand with a small brush. They are pruned to allow only one melon to grow on a vine so that there is no competition for flavor or nutrients. The melons are tied to the vine to ensure they don’t fall away as they grow larger and heavier than nature would normally allow. The melons are wrapped in paper to guarantee an even color and surface, and they are adorned with little hats to protect them from sunburn. They are handicrafts to the degree that the farmers literally massage them frequently to develop a perfect spherical shape. The farmers wear white cotton gloves for massaging and some days the melons get so much attention they wear holes in the gloves. When the melons are ready, they are cut with an iconic T-shaped stem and sent out for their shape, smell, and taste to be measured by experts in melon assessment who determine their final grade and price. Such attention to detail yields nearly perfect fruit that are excellent for luxury gifts in department stores across Japan. To gift such a muskmelon shows the care and respect you have for the recipient (and probably reveals your hope for a promotion).
The farmers care for their crops incessantly, many of them never taking a vacation due to the risk that could bring to the melons. Shizuoka melon farmer, Chujo Fumiyoshi, once lost a crop due to underwatering and “could barely eat for days afterward.” But the sacrifice is worth it for a melon farmer like Chujo who explains, “I’m growing delicious melons that delight the eyes, then the nose, and finally the palate. To me, this is as good as it gets.” For these farmers, their melons are arguably more important to them than their families. Muskmelons are not simply the key to their livelihood, muskmelons are their life’s work.
John 15:5 is one of the best summaries of the Christian life. Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” This passage reminds us of our union with Christ, and the necessity of this union for the Christian to live a fruitful life.
When we read John 15:5 with a Western mind, we only get half of the picture. We imagine “much fruit” as merely quantitative. The language clearly implies a quantitative dimension, but the fruit of abiding possesses a qualitative dimension as well. This quantitative bias may be seen in that many interpret this passage to describe the fruit of ministry alone. They read John 15:5 to describe one who abides in Christ as one who produces disciples to Christ and who does good deeds for the Kingdom. We abide to recharge for mission. We rest simply to work.
However, a qualitative understanding of this fruit keeps all our working in check. We do not abide simply to bear the fruit of ministry. We also abide to bear the fruit of intimacy with Christ. D.A. Carson describes the fruit as “everything that is the product of effective prayer in Jesus’ name, including obedience to Jesus’ commands…experience of Jesus’ joy…love for for one another…and witness to the world” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 517). Thus the quantity of our fruit is only half the story, through Christ, the quality of our fruit matters as well.
And so we consider the muskmelon. Pruned and pampered. Tied to the vine and protected from the sun. Shaped and developed for delight. The loving labors of abiding are from the farmer. The source of life from the vine. This succulent fruit grows by the work and life of another. Abiding in the Son and tended by our Father we grow the fruit of holiness, joy, and love. We grow in holiness, because abiding produces obedience and obedience leads to further abiding. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10). We grow in joy, because abiding is delighting and delighting is abiding. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). And we grow in love, because by abiding we experience the love of the Father and the Son. We will not abide if we do not love and we cannot love if we do not abide. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). These are primarily qualitative measures of the fruit of abiding and not simply quantitative.
There are practical applications to this as well. When the fruit of abiding is judged by its quality, sustained time in the word and prayer take center stage. If our fruit is only quantitative we are tempted to find something like a full day of prayer as a distraction from our “more important work” of ministry. When the fruit is also qualitative, a day of prayer is the work and the fruit of the work, and therefore a day of prayer may very well be the most important thing we can do. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Oh to be a muskmelon Christian who learns that the greatest fruit of abiding is abiding itself.