HOMILY for Wed 12th Week OT (II)
Figs and grapes are cultivated plants. They require the care and attention of a gardener. For untended, the ground ‘naturally’ produces only thorns and thistles. Sheep require the care and attention of a shepherd. For left to their own devices, they ‘naturally’ stray off the narrow path and on to wide plains where they can be scattered and the weak are picked off by wolves.
With these images, Christ comes to the final section of the Sermon on the Mount. Its wisdom teaches us that we need to submit ourselves to God’s tender care and attention if we’re to be fruitful. For he, the divine Gardener desires to cultivate our heart so that we produce sweet and attractive fruit. As St Paul said: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. But without his grace, our fallen human nature produces only the thorns of sin and the thistles of pride. So, we also need to listen to the voice of the divine Shepherd who calls us on the path that leads through the “narrow gate”. We might recall from yesterday’s Gospel, that this path is “hard”, but it leads to life.
How do we listen to Christ’s voice, and when are our hearts tended and cultivated? At the heart of the Sermon on the Mount is the Lord’s Prayer. And so, it seems to me, it is principally in prayer, which is the heart of the Christian life, that we listen to the Lord and follow him, seeking that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. The Lord’s Prayer also teaches us that all genuine prayer is made in union with Christ, for it is only in and with him that we can dare to call God ‘Abba’. So, when we truly pray, we are cultivated and led to eternal life by Christ because we are in union with him. As St Cyril of Alexandria says: “Like branches growing from a vine, we now draw our life from Christ, and we cling to his holy commandment in order to preserve this life”.
So, we shall be fruitful if we cling to Christ and his teachings, if we remain with him. What this entails is that we remain close to the totus Christus, to Christ and his holy Church, who teaches in union with Christ as a true prophet who loves the flock of God. And these teachings can be hard, like the narrow path that leads to life, whereas the teachings of “false prophets” can be beguiling. Like sheep’s clothing, i.e., wool, teaching that deviates from the entire Christ’s appears warm, soft, and comforting. But in fact, they do not challenge us but leave us to our own devices, to produce only thorns and thistles.
Therefore, Christ urges us to “beware” in today’s Gospel lest we be misled and picked off by the wolf in sheep’s clothing. We shall know these false prophets by their bad fruit. What are these? In the Scriptures the worst fruit is that which Eve was seduced into taking: a fruit of disobedience, pride, and untruth. So, let us follow the Good Shepherd, and pray that he gives us shepherds after his own heart, who can lead us and guide us safely through the narrow gate. Or failing that, maybe a few good sheep dogs of the Lord, whose barking will warn off the wolves!