Saturday in Fourteenth Week after Pentecost
The stark duality of this gospel passage gives me a twinge of panic when I consider what sort of tree I might be. I know that there have been times when something sweet and good was produced. But I’m also painfully aware of some thorns and bitter fruit that have been unpleasant and harmful for myself and others around me. And, sometimes, when I look around at the other plants in the garden, the people whose lives seem to produce nothing but bushel after bushel of the finest fruit around, I think of my own poor crop as rather paltry.
If my crop seems a bit mixed, and doesn’t appear to measure up to my neighbors, where does that put me in Jesus’ final tally? Am I a good tree or a bad tree?
I was reminded recently of an old Iroquois agricultural practice. You may be familiar with the Three Sisters gardening method, in which corn, beans, and squash are planted together in the same mound because of the way they aid one another’s growth. I had quickly recalled the vague notion that the beans can climb up the corn stalk, which seems a bit opportunistic. But, the relationship is far more robust than that. The beans actually help stabilize the corn stalk and their roots contain bacteria that helps make nitrogen in the air and soil useable by the other crops. In turn, the large squash leaves act as a living mulch of sorts, keeping the soil cool and damp and choking out weeds. The prickly branches also resist pests like racoons that would ravage the beans and corn. And then, grown fully, their combined nutrient diversity was a wonderful balance for the Iroquois diet.
It’s a fascinating relationship of mutual support that yields good fruit. As each plant offers the gifts uniquely intrinsic to it, they are caught up in a common life of giving and receiving and offering up the produce.
Ignatian spirituality offers insight into a means of moving toward the realization of God’s chief end for us each individually. We are all created to praise, reverence and serve God. And each of us have core desires that God has planted within us. These are the foundations God would have us build our lives upon. As we continue to identify and disentangle ourselves from the hooks that try to pull us into what we were never meant to be, we’re able to more fully receive, and honor the desire within us that yearns after God and is met by Christ’s redeeming and perfecting love.
In the spiritual dance that draws us into God’s love, we take steps forward and back. Sometimes one of our branches may be yielding good fruit while another is withered and spent as it drifts away from the true vine.
The path forward is in the trust that Christ is pruning us, drawing us more deeply and personally into the divine image fused at the core of our being; and that our neighbors, as they grow and mature as well are bound up with us like the three sisters into the body of Christ in the world.
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