In keeping with my formation goals for the year, here is a reflection on the readings for mass this coming weekend: (Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 4:6-9, Matthew 21:33-43)
I can see it now – my little chubby hands reaching for the flower seeds. I was about four years old, and for all intents and purposes as big around as I was tall. We were going to grow flowers in the small beds on either side of the front porch… and I was so excited!!
Those of you who know me might have a hard time imagining that I virtually grabbed the bag of seed from my mother’s hands, and – anxious to do it, do it well, and do it BIG – began broadcasting seed all over the bed. Tons of seed. And then, after the excitement of seeding and watering ran out, I was done. Finished. Well, to tell the truth – bored and ready to move on to the next thing.
My mother, of course, was ready to help me learn a thing or two about how things grow…and I suppose perhaps hope I learned something about life… as she more purposefully first tilled up the soil, neatly plowed little rows with her trowel, gently laid the seeds in (by this time I was totally finished and in the back yard playing with Bumper the puppy), carefully covering the seeds back over, and watering with just enough, and not too much. Indeed, she cared for that garden nearly as much as Isaiah’s friend.
Which flower bed produced the most fruit? Well, surely I wouldn’t have this completely innocent grin on my face today if my little haphazardly thrown together, sometimes-watered, never-weeded, little plot of land hadn’t produced it glorious and colorful and sweet bounty, compared to the sparse yield of a few blooms on the other side of the porch.
Was it the seed? Was it the method? Was it the soil? Was it luck? I don’t know. What I do know is that as this true legend is re-told over and over in our family’s lore, my mother’s supposed and interpreted response is very much like Isaiah’s friend, when my field produced and hers didn’t. This story, first told by Isaiah and retold to a crowd likely familiar with it by Christ himself, creates some strange questions.
- Why didn’t the field, so carefully planned, planted, and cared for, produce fruit?
- What’s to blame when our fields don’t prosper? The seed? The sewer? The field?
- What’s our response when our fields don’t prosper?
What fields have you planted? Are you nurturing a marriage? Raising children? Working in ministries in the Church? Investing in your occupation? Tending a hoped-for harvest in community organizations, charities, educational pursuits? What fields have you planted – and how are they producing?
And perhaps even more importantly… what is our response when the crop doesn’t turn out the way we want. After all, Isaiah’s field didn’t fail to produce… it just failed to produce the right kind of grape. It failed to produce what was hoped for when it was planted. So what do we do when our marriage, our children, our ministries, our pursuits aren’t turning out the way we’d hoped they would? Do we just knock down the walls and let it be run over by weeds, grazed by whatever would come in to destroy it?
Well, sometimes we’re tempted to say, that’s what the story SAYS. That’s what GOD did. That’s what we should do, too. And – sure enough – that is what we read in the two accounts of this parable. But, there’s one flawed piece of logic there. God is God, and we are not.
There is something to be said for the matching of these two readings with the second reading for today I think. Something to be said for understanding both what God does to tend His vineyard, and what we’re called to do to tend ours. We are called to “have no anxiety” – we’re called to pray and petition – we’re called to make our requests – but to do all of that, and no matter what happens, blend it all together with our thanksgivings. That’s how we make sure the little gardens we plant in the Lord’s vineyard don’t become the sour grapes that spoiled the whole crop. That’s how we find the ‘peace that passes all understanding’. That’s how we welcome the ‘God of peace’ into our midst, into our vineyards, into our work and our lives.
What are your vineyards?