Pastoral Perspectives

Bees and Tomatoes

We have been trying to grow tomatoes for some months. The trees would slither up quickly and bloom. But after a while, the flowers would drop off and not bear any fruit. It happened a few times and we were getting frustrated with them. Someone visited us and when I shared about our unfruitful tomatoes, she looked at our very small garden (more like flower pots) and asked “Do you see bees around here? If there are no bees to pollinate the flowers, you may not have tomatoes.” Since we live several floors above the ground floor, it occurred to me that we hardly see bees around our corridors and hence the fruitless tree.

To some people bees may be scary, annoying and not worth paying much attention to because besides getting into rooms, vehicles and drinks, it can also sting people. But without bees, we wouldn’t have much of the food that comes to our plate. Besides chasing people and annoying others, bees perform a task that is vital to the survival of agriculture. We get to eat many things because bees have helped in the pollination process.

This made me think about the dynamics of our relationship with each other. Just as bees are needed to keep the cycle of life turning, we need one another in our cycle of community life as well. In a Christian community, we will encounter different kinds of people from all walks of life coming together to worship God. We are not talking about a homogenous group but a complex web of people.

It is not uncommon to hear that our faith must be kept private because it is a personal matter. While it is true that our faith needs to be worked out in fear and trembling, it is not a private or personal matter. The teachings of Jesus were not confined to personal spaces of home or the temple. It influenced people from all walks of life and even threatened political powers. It is no wonder then that our journey of faith is actually a community project. A community that is not defined by the views and positions of the world but by the living word of God. That is why we come together putting aside our differences and do life together according to the teachings of Jesus Christ who is the head of this community. We sing songs peculiar to this community. We eat food (holy communion) which is peculiar to this community. There is also a life style that is peculiar to this community. In Paul’s words, we are to live as citizens of heaven and behave likewise in our conduct not only on Sundays but every day. This peculiar community is meant to help us bear “tomatoes” which the Bible calls the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness,  self-control; against such things there is no law.

How and where can we bear the fruit of the spirit? Interestingly the wisdom of the Bible teaches us that it cannot be borne in isolation. For some of us, we may be very comfortable with our own kind. But the moment we become only one kind, it no longer fits the description of the community in the Bible. Just like the tomato trees, some of us may be growing and even blooming but in order to bear fruit, we will be put to the test. The test is to love God and others as God has loved us which is the royal commandment. This is where we may wither or bear fruit.

Many people fail the test because the Biblical principle is forgotten and not applied. If we are not careful, in our anger or frustration, we can become carnal and do to others what they did to us. So we end up saying “you scratch my back I scratch yours; you kick me I kick you. This is where an eye for an eye truly leaves everyone blind. On one hand, we know that we are not to judge but as believers, we must make judgements about what is good or bad otherwise there would be no need for this so called community. Even as we make judgements, we ought to do it using the Bible’s measuring tool and not by our own standards.

Should we then shy away because we cannot handle such situations? Our normal instinct would be to flee but this is where God might be at work. It is true that we ask and pray that there will be peace and that everything will go smoothly. But we know that the reality of the world we live in is not like that. We can be agents of love, joy, peace … with God’s help.

The fruit of the spirit once borne, will become visible to the community because such virtues cannot be hidden. It is in the context of opposites that such virtues are honed and borne. We do not light candles where there is light. We light a candle where there is darkness. Similarly, we love not only those who love us but we love those who hate us. The Bible teaches us this principle -love your enemies (Matt 5:44). In all honesty, our enemies or those who hate us are like the bees in our lives. They may come around and annoy us or even sting us but in the process, if listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and do the right thing, we will bear fruit. When such fruit is borne in a community, it heals, reconciles and holds the community together. John 13:35 says “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”

The Christian faith therefore is not a relationship that is reduced to an individual person and his/her God. It is a community project where such a relationship will grow and show the kind of fruit that is borne. We need each other because we are still work in progress and we cannot see all our blind spots. We are blind to our own sins and need others to show and remind us.

May we exhort one another everyday so that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 12:13).

Where there is hatred, may we sow love
Where there is injury, pardon 
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy
Where there is death, life.*
(Prayer of St Francis)

Pr Loliro Sani

May 19, 2019