Gospel reading for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 21:33-43
There are different ways to interpret what Jesus meant by fruit in this reading. The fruit that matters to me right now is developing a strong Christian character in myself and my children, as well as living a Christ-centered life. Sometimes I feel like we’re getting somewhere, like when my 6-year-old daughter recently declared “I want to build character so I’m only eating half of my cupcake,” or at her kindergarten graduation last spring, when she announced that she wants to be “a giver” when she grows up. At other times, I fear that I am desperately failing, like when my 2-year-old emphatically suggested, “Let’s be not nice!” Or, when I lose my patience and get angry with my family (it happens more than I’d like to admit).
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” I’m pretty good at telling my kids how to nurture these qualities within themselves; I’m not nearly as good at modeling them. And I know that modeling is much more important than lecturing.
For many, many years, I tried hard to be fruitful. I tried to be a better person, tried to improve my character, tried not to lose my temper so much, tried to be more generous, tried to be more at peace. But I never felt like I was making much progress. My method was futile – I was doing the same things over and over again, and expecting different results. It took me a long time to realize that the problem was that I was relying on myself and myself alone. I needed to involve God.
The start of the real change happened earlier this year, when I stopped trying and started praying. I also immersed myself in Jesus – I read about Him, thought about Him, wrote about Him, and (as my husband will confirm), I talked about Him… a lot.
I prayed many different prayers and in several different ways. But there was one prayer in particular that was the real kicker. The one that brought God so close to me it nearly knocked me over. The inspiration for this prayer came from one of my favorite priests, a man who shares his faith with passion, peace and authenticity (maybe this will be his official prayer when he becomes a saint one day). So here it is: “Dear God, help me to be who you want me to be, and to live my life in a way that is so attractive that it entices others to want to learn more about my faith. Do your work through me, so that I can help bring my friends and family closer to you, so that they too can experience a fruitful relationship with you.”
I pray this prayer a lot, nearly every day. And guess what? God is listening! And he’s also making some changes. Filling me with such natural joy that there isn’t as much room as there used to be for anger, worry or fear. The more I let go, the more He leads. And He’s a much better navigator than I am.
Now, all this being said, I am a long way from who I want to be. But with Christ at my center, I do believe that at least I have a good idea of how to get there.