My Dad likes to tell the story of how as a kid he was once the champion cherry picker in his hometown of Ransomville, NY. He states that he developed a technique of holding himself in the tree with one hand and pulling the cherries off the branches with the other. I failed to ask him how he got the bucket in position without having everything crash to the ground. I suppose that picking cherries can really teach a person discipline. If you ate too many as you picked, the consequences were worse than losing the contest and ending up with an empty pail. It then became a match as to who could get to the john the fastest.
My old family stomping grounds.
Ransomville, located in the Town of Porter in Niagara County NY, has a rich history of being an area for fruit orchards and fresh produce. It was, and to my knowledge still is, very common for anyone with even a small garden to put some of their yield for sale out in the front yard along the highway. I always thought that the best apples were grown there and couldn’t wait for each year’s new harvest. The tomatoes were the best too. My Mom used to jar bushel after bushel of fresh tomatoes each year. To eat store-bought tomatoes from a can was heresy, especially if you happened to have any Italian blood. I remember buying a can of Chef Boyardee once I was off on my own just to see if I had missed anything.
I hated picking beans.
My Dad’s championship was long before I was born. I have never picked cherries. My task was to pick the beans — at least a quarter of an acre of green and sometimes yellow beans. I was the oldest kid in my family.Therefore, it was determined that I was the most mature and would have the easiest time maneuvering my once skinny self around the low-lying plants. Usually I wasn’t out in the garden at sunrise, but managed to get started in the hot noon sun. I can’t remember why I waited so long. I probably procrastinated getting them picked and put it off as long as possible. I hated picking beans and then snipping them. Once in a heated temper tantrum I ripped out a couple of plants by the roots. After gathering my composure, I made an effort to hide the evidence by pushing the plants back in the ground in hopes that no one will ever notice. The next day, a couple of those plants had turned brown and withered. My stepfather wondered what in the world had happened and concluded that an animal must have trampled or a dog must have made some business on them. I was off the hook and no one ever knew.
One can learn a lot from gardening.
I learned that if you rip a bean plant out by the root, chances are that they will not be able to thrive well if you try to smash it back into the ground again. Such concepts can be applied to life. Anything being ripped from its natural environment could have great difficulty being transplanted again unless done with great care. Broken relationships are hard to repair and lives disrupted by difficulties sometimes are next to impossible to heal.
But later I learned something more about plants. It really depends on what type of plant as to how well it adapts to changes and disruptions. And with people it depends what they are made of as well. Challenges can define people and show character. I was surprised to learn that grape vines can be grafted back and indeed thrive. Niagara is known for its unique vineyards. However, as a young kid, I never picked grapes, I just got the beans.You know how the old saying goes, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I was making three bean salad.
Grapes and vineyards appear a lot in the Bible.
Vineyards were used probably because back in the old days it was a common crop to which people could relate. In this Sunday’s Gospel (Jn 15:1-8). Jesus uses one of His famous “I am’s” and describes Himself as the True Vine and God the Father as the Vine Grower:
Jesus said to His disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in Me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in Me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without Me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in Me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in Me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
This is both strong language, beautifully poetic, and contains encouraging promises. It shows the importance of being connected to the Vine. He goes as far as to emphasize the True Vine, not just any old vine. We’re not talking beans here. This image gives insight as to the source of true life and sustenance through the difficulties.
About being grafted back.
But what if we are plucked out by the roots or never attached to the True Vine in the first place? I dare say that in many respects most of us are like wild shoots in that we are trying to find our way to God. Unlike the beans that I once ripped out of the ground in a furry, vines can be grafted back. The New Testament reassures this in Romans 11:17,23: But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place and have come to share in the rich root of the olive tree…And they also, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.