Once upon a time there was a garden in the middle of which stood an apple tree of the most imposing kind. Already by early June it was full of green, but still tiny fruits, destined to become big, red, juicy apples in a few months.
Only one branch was almost empty. It merely had two of those small soon-to-be apples close to its very tip. One hung where sunlight shone upon it and enjoyed the warm rays all day long. The other had come into the world behind a few leaves and only ever saw the shade from those leaves, with the sun-drenched world far beyond. Most of all that little apple wished to get out into the world, away from the shadows.
“If I can only grow enough,” the small apple thought. “Then I can surely reach the sunshine. And then I’ll be as big as the other apples in no time.”
Because even a very tiny and very green apple wants to become a big, juicy, red apple one day.
Days and weeks went by in the garden. The apple in the sun grew bigger and bigger and eventually changed color from green to red, with splashes of yellow. The tiny apple in the shade also grew, but only a very little. And it remained green. Sometimes it even seemed that it was turning greener, instead of gaining even a hint of red on its surface.
“If I was only where you are,” the green apple thought, looking at its now red brother. “If I just had as much sun, then I’d be the happiest of all apples. An apple is supposed to be large and red, with splashes of yellow. Everybody knows that. Definitely not green.”
Yet the more that green apple longed to change color, the more stubbornly the green seemed to cling to it.
The sun continued shining because it was one of those summers when the sun always shone. The kind that grown-ups always had when they were children, but nobody has nowadays.
One day when the sun’s rays were at their prettiest, the gardener walked by the apple tree that was now weighed down by a mass of maturing fruit.
Right in the middle of all those beautiful apples there was one that particularly caught the sun and reflected it, as if it was made of glass. He saw the glimmer of the reflection and stopped.
“This apple is so ripe, I’d better pick it this minute,” he said to himself. “Otherwise it will start to rot and then it won’t be of any use to anybody.”
In a flash he was by the branch and grabbed the apple.
The green apple had just nodded off into a nap, tired from all its failed attempts at growing and ripening. With the whole branch shaking, it woke up rather brusquely. The leaves shook and opened up to display a horrific vision: That ripe, so very red, apple was gone. Nothing left of it at all.
But some distance away the gardener was walking among the flowers, happily eating a large, very shiny and red apple.
In sheer horror, the green apple shrunk together, turning even greener than before, while exclaiming:
“If that’s what happens when you turn red and ripen — then I’ll never, never, ever turn red.”
Quite a few leaves fell in the first storm of autumn and the sun tried in every way possible to warm the little green apple. But to no avail. It was and remained green. All the other apples were picked and carried off. Some that had fallen down on the ground, rotted and birds ate them when the weather turned cold.
Eventually all the leaves fell and the tree was now bare to the wind that was icy and howled through the branches. A naked tree in the snows of winter.
Only that one little apple still hung on its branch, as green as ever. Only more dried up by now and no bigger than it had been in early summer. Still, it laughed to itself.
“All those stupid apples were so eager to ripen,” it thought. That it had itself been exactly like them in the middle of summer was conveniently forgotten.
“Then they ripened — got all red and pretty. But where are they now? Rotten. Or eaten. Thrown away on some rubbish heap. Forgotten! I’m the only one still hanging around. I will stay a little green apple and always hang here.”
In the middle of winter a hungry bird came by and hopefully started pecking at the frosty apple. But the apple was now so hard and shrunken that the bird didn’t make the least impact on it. Worn out, it flew away. The apple still hung on the branch.
Spring came with warm, playful breezes.
“This is it,” the apple thought. “The worst is over. Now I will hang here and enjoy the sunshine. Life is good.”
Because there were no leaves to block out the sun and the little apple didn’t know any better.
One day when the wind was at its most playful and ran circles around the tree, it happened that the branch with the green apple broke off. The wind was of course very sorry, but the damage was done and there was nothing to be done about it.
The gardener came out and removed the fallen branch. The wind knows to tell that he took it home with him and carved little figures from it. His children were ever so delighted with their new toys.
When the branch fell, the green apple got knocked off the branch and ended up by itself on the ground. The gardener then happened to step on it when he picked up the branch. Any other apple would have been squashed into a mess, but the green apple was so hard, it was just pressed into the soft ground. Like when you step on a rock.
A worm came by, bumped its head against the apple and pulled back for a good look. The worm was rather confused.
“You are a strange rock,” the worm said.
“I am no rock — whatever that is. I am an apple. The world’s happiest apple.”
The worm pondered and peered at the apple from side to side.
“That’s of course possible,” said the worm. “On the other hand, I’ve sampled quite a few apples in my lifetime, if I may say so. From that I’ve obtained a certain amount of experience and never have I found an apple to be as hard as a rock. You are a rock, my friend.”
The worm crawled on and the apple remained laying there. It probably still lies in that spot to this very day.
At around the same time the gardener discovered a new little plant poking up out of the ground in a corner of the garden. He bent over and looked more closely.
“Well, what do you know? If my old eyes aren’t entirely mistaken, that’s an apple tree. But how…”
He pondered for several days.
“Now I’ve got it,” he exclaimed one day. “By Jove, I’ve got it. That big, very red apple, the first one I picked last autumn. I threw the core in that corner after I ate the apple. Now the seeds have started growing and up comes a teeny, tiny little apple tree.”
The gardener was so happy with the new tree that he took extra good care of it and made sure it grew well. Several years later it produced the first fruit.
Both then and later, the gardener insisted that the fruit was every bit as red and juicy as the apple those seeds had come from. And all who saw the new apple tree were amazed at the very fine fruit it produced.
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
“No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
The Gospel of John 12:24-25, 15:4-5 (NIV)