Monday, July 8, 2019

Bearing Fruit

In this week's reading from the Letter to the Colossians, the author says, "just as [the gospel] is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God." The gospel, as the author understands it, is the story of Jesus's redemption of humanity and his promise of a better future for all of us. Once we've heard this Good News, it begins to work on us and shape us into a new creation. But what does this new creation, this fruitfulness, look like?

Some would have us believe that God rewards dutiful Christians with financial prosperity and good fortune; but this week's readings suggest something very different. The story of the Good Samaritan, which will be our Gospel reading on Sunday, illustrates that true fruitfulness comes from an inner spiritual richness, because that richness fosters life in everything and everyone it touches, not just ourselves. The fact that a Samaritan, considered an outcast among the Jews of Jesus's day, offered such abundant mercy and generosity to a stranger affirms that it's the love within us that matters, rather than wealth, social status, or power. After all, a priest and a Levite both passed the wounded traveler by without so much as a glance; but the Samaritan is moved by compassion. He binds up the travelers wounds, conveys him to an inn, takes care of him, and instructs the innkeeper to spare no expense in looking after the injured man until he returns.

This story of the Good Samaritan is Jesus's answer to a lawyer's question, "who is my neighbor," after Jesus reminds him that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Church teaches that it is each Christian's duty to attend to both "spiritual works of mercy" and "corporal works of mercy." Corporal works of mercy attend to people's physical needs: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and bury the dead. The idea in Colossians is that we do good works, not because we feel guilty or pressured by others, but because we feel an overwhelming gratitude for God's care and nurturing of us. And maybe, like the robbed traveler, we too were saved unexpectedly by a stranger in our own moment of crisis. Similarly, the message in our Gospel reading is that we do works of mercy out of a sense of shared humanity and love for each other as neighbors. Love generates love. Our own experience of fruitfulness makes us eager to see others fruitful, too.

Even though we have entered a more leisurely season at St. Helena's, we will still need to be planting seeds this summer, so that the parish can bear new fruit. We already have a rich soil and a healthy climate to allow these seeds to flourish. So, we'll build on our spiritual richness, by learning to invite, to greet, to orient, and to incorporate newcomers better. We'll draw on our own experience of God's abundance so that others can be fruitful, too.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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