“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.” Jn 15:1-2
Village of Olga, Florida. About a mile out of town, I saw the sign: “Olga Mall Ahead.” “What? The Olga Mall? Sweetie, I thought the population of this place was supposed to be 1,952 people—off the beaten track you said!” Then, as enter the main intersection of town, we spy the ramshackle old general store on the corner, with a big sign in front, “Olga Mall.” It’s closed, but there is a fresh vegetable stand from their farm in front, with a small contribution can next to it. A sign reads, “Fresh Vegetables. If you can’t pay, that’s okay.”
Evelyn and I were on our Sunday afternoon “family day” activity, a ride in the country to a relatively poor rural area of southwest Florida, not far from Lake Okeechobee. This little sign really strikes us. The farmer running the Olga Mall could not possibly be experiencing record sales in the midst of the Corona lockdown, and most likely was herself on the financial edge. Yet, like the widow contributing her last penny, here she was anonymously giving people with lesser means some fresh food for their tables. “Corona is bringing out the best in all of us, Ev.” “It is Steve. We’re being pruned by the Lord. Never feels good at the time, but we end up bearing a lot more fruit.”
Fast forward to last night’s Lumen Circle (by Zoom, of course), and the reading is—John 15, the vine and the vine grower. As we collectively reflect on this beautiful passage, all of us are struck by the power of being connected to this eternal vine of Christ, the occasional pain and suffering of being “pruned”, and the many fruits that always come in abundance later from Him as a result.
This Corona mess has been a horror show, of course. Economy on lockdown, millions of jobs furloughed and many of those probably lost– whole businesses shut down– and still with this collective sacrifice, thousands of lives lost. Most of them forced to die alone, under a ventilator tent, unable even to receive fully the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. When I dwell on this last reality, I sometimes find myself near tears.
And yet I know that through this suffering, will come joy. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11) Not the kind of joy that the world often seeks, which is really passing happiness, a fleeting experience that never lasts. No, this is “My Joy”, the joy of Christ himself. Permanent, confident, deep, eternal. Perfect joy.
As we stumble forward towards the light we all now are beginning to see at the end of the Corona tunnel, our Lumen group resolved this week to focus in prayer on the good– the joy– that had come into our lives as a result of this crisis. More family time. More prayer time. More time to breathe. More time to be grateful for the little things, the little joys that the Lord presents to us. And more time to experience the joy of a bent but not broken small time farmer from the Olga Mall, willing to give the fruit of his labor to his neighbors who can’t pay. “That’s ok.”
May 12, 2020