Let Us Not Grow Tired!
A Reflection on the Gospel of Mark 11:11-26 - 2 June 2023
Author’s Farm Front Field with newly planted corn.
The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!” (Mark 11:12–14 NABRE)
Today we hear the Gospel of the fig tree which bears no fruit and so is cursed to wither and die. One might wonder at such a response from our Lord. Jesus is hungry and there is no fruit. God the Son, with intense love, craves, hungers for, the salvation of souls, the fruits of the Kingdom. Of what worth is the plant that produces no fruit when such a hunger exists?
Uniquely, St Mark links the story of the cursing of the fig tree to the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the Temple. St Mark is challenging us through this pericope to understand that a Church which bears fruit for the Kingdom is one that is rightly oriented on the living God, our beloved Lord, from whom true life flows. Understanding that neither the harvest nor the land itself in the Kingdom of God is our own; it is, nonetheless, the duty of the Church to work without fail to bring forth a bountiful harvest of souls.
St Paul wrote to the Galatians,
Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 NABRE)
I am now spending my second year living on my wife’s family farm. It is amazing to live on a beautiful farm that for the last 130 years has sustained my wife’s family and of which my family is now a steward. The land and its adjacent river are not anything anyone but its creator can ever own. Yet, we have an immense role to play. St John Paul II once preached,
In order to bring forth fruit, the land would depend upon the genius and skillfulness, the sweat and the toil of the people to whom God would entrust it. Thus the food which would sustain life on earth is willed by God to be both that “which earth has given and human hands have made”. (St John Paul II Homily 4 Oct 1979)
The farm sits along the Miles River at its mouth on the Chesapeake Bay. For several generations, the land yielded more than enough corn, wheat, soybeans, crabs, oysters, and fish to sustain our family and allow them to moderately prosper. Farmers know that the fruit of the land is first and foremost the result of Grace, an undeserved gift from God. Yet it also depends on the genius, skillfulness, and work ethic of the farmer or waterman who cooperates with Grace to yield the fruit that reaches those far beyond the boundaries of a small farm.
I have watched our farmer work the soil so that the land bears the greatest possible yield. I have witnessed the tractor roll over the land for hours, from first light until there is no natural light remaining. We all observe carefully where the water from heavy rains sits and stands, and then work across the winter to level it to ensure it properly drains. Yet, there is never any doubt that the harvest flows primarily from God’s goodness. For this, the attitude of all who have worked this little farm is one of gratitude, conservation, and generosity.
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We see throughout all the Gospels, but especially in the cleansing of the Temple in the Gospel today, the result of a failure to tend the Kingdom so that it could bear fruit. The people of Israel, and especially its leaders, were given the gift and the responsibility to grow the Kingdom of God, to till and work its soil, to produce an abundant harvest through which all nations will be blessed (Gen 2:18). Yet, they did not tend the kingdom with gratitude. Instead, with arrogance, they treated the kingdom as a right stemming from their heredity, not the gift that it was. They also ceased to conserve or care for the Kingdom. In greed, as Jesus points out in the Gospel today, the Kingdom became a money-making venture meant to profit the greedy, not the right worship of the God from whom all gifts flow. Finally, those who led the people of Israel lost their perspective on their purpose as religious leaders and sought to exploit those in most need in the Kingdom; the sick, the poor, and the ostracized through profiting from a people’s desire to adhere to the law and be reconciled with God. Jesus lays the responsibility on the leaders of Israel. He tells them through the parable of the evil tenants that for this, they too, will be uprooted from the vineyard and cast out and the vineyard will be given to others. (Mark 12:1-10)
The Kingdom of God has been given to the Church, the Body of Christ. All of us, through Jesus’ redeeming death on the cross, and the grace poured out from the Sacraments, are given the gift and the responsibility to care for the kingdom. We need to learn from the Gospel today. Like a good farmer, we need to live in a state of gratitude for the gifts God has given. Then with humility, genius, skill, and hard work, seek always the greatest harvest of souls for the Kingdom. Let us work to rightly conserve and care for the Kingdom, rightly ordered to the prayer and worship of God alone. Finally, let us give generously in acts of both corporal and spiritual mercy such that the Kingdom cannot help but grow in numbers and joy. Christ hungers!
Through the grace of God, the Church is given a great gift and responsibility. May we never pridefully exploit the Kingdom for our own gain, but work in humility such that the world may be saved and fed through Christ. Christ hungers! Let us not grow tired, for the harvest awaits.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37 NABRE)
John Paul II. Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC (NABRE): The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.