Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily April 29.
Spring is here and I’ll bet some of you are probably putting in gardens, including at least a few tomato plants.
Now I’m not much of a gardener, but I do know that if you want your tomatoes to produce, you’ve got to pinch off the non-productive branches — we called them “suckers.” These barren branches sap the strength of the plant, producing a big plant with a lot of leaves, but few tomatoes.
They are “taker” branches. What you want is to maximize the nutrient flow to the “giver” branches that produce so many tomatoes that you have to prop them up. If you had wanted a big green bush, you’d have planted something prettier than a tomato plant. But if what you want are tomatoes, in a certain sense, the scrawnier the plant the better.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says the same thing regarding his vineyard. Every barren branch he prunes and throws away, while every fruitful branch he trims to further increase its yield — and we are that plant. In this world there are givers and takers. The takers sap our strength, often in an effort to appear important at the expense of others. I see this all the time.
What our world needs is to maximize the nutrient flow to the givers and to help develop these people to further increase their yield. The Lord wants us to produce so much fruit that we have to be propped up — and that’s what the Church is for: to prop us up, to support us in producing abundant fruit worthy of the Lord.
The Church is no beauty contest: the Lord is not impressed by how we look on the outside — indeed, since what he wants is produce, a scrawnier outward appearance may even be better. But woe to those branches that do not produce good fruit: our Gospel says God will prune away every barren branch, which will then be thrown in the fire and burnt.
Another point is that any branch will wither and die if its source of nutrients is cut off. So also for us, we have to stay attached to Jesus if we are going to continue to bear fruit. “No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine can you bear fruit apart from me.”
You and I are not only the Lord’s garden, but also in a way his gardeners. As garden, we’re on the receiving end of pruning and trimming, and God does this in part through the challenges and adversities we face — just like he pruned and trimmed the early Church through the persecutions they faced. But in addition to being garden, we are also gardeners: there are people God has placed in our care to be pruned and trimmed by us.
As a bishop, I’m a worker in the vineyard of the Church and you are in a sense the garden the Lord has entrusted to me — and I will have to give account for the care I take of this garden. Sometimes I have to prune and trim, which isn’t always all that pleasant. But most of the time it’s just a daily process of hoeing and pulling weeds and watering and even putting down a little manure once in a while. I don’t care what we smell like, what I care about is caring for the Lord’s garden, producing abundant fruit.
In the same way, all of you are also workers in the Lord’s vineyard — and you will have to give account for the care you take of the garden the Lord has entrusted to you. Sometimes you have to prune the unacceptable behavior of your children, which isn’t always all that pleasant. And sorry to say, some parents are afraid to do so: they’re afraid of losing their children’s affection. But if you don’t pinch back the “taker” branches now, it’ll be a much bigger operation later, and even then you may end up with a big bush that doesn’t produce a thing — unhappy persons who sap the life right out of your family. Every one of us knows people like that: spoiled to their own detriment more than anyone else’s.
At the end of the day, the Lord will come seeking fruit from his vineyard. I would like to be able to present the Diocese of Little Rock to him as a garden that produces abundantly. And I’m sure you’ll want to be able to present your family to him in just the same way, to the greater glory of God.
As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “My Father has been glorified in your bearing much fruit ...”
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