Several weeks ago, we reflected on the image of God as a Joyful Gardener in the Old Testament. The image didn’t end there, but had a kind of fulfillment one singular Sunday morning, when Christ burst forth from the tomb with all the brilliance of a bridegroom. According to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene was the first witness of the “first-fruits of the Resurrection,” but didn’t recognize her Lord immediately. Maybe she was blinded by swollen eyes, or something more mysterious, but she supposed the figure at her side “to be the gardener” (John 20:15). I think Jesus took the guise of a gardener, rather than Mary simply being confused.
As I have meditated on this miraculous moment, I picture Christ turning the rich earth with a wooden spade, lovingly tending a lilac or carefully pruning an olive tree. Maybe he was joyfully gathering figs into his garment that he had gathered to form a basket. After all, he came to renew all of creation, not just humanity. Lest you think this is too pedestrian of a guise for the God of the Universe, remember that just one chapter later we find The Lord of All bent over a breakfast he has just cooked for his disbelieving disciples.
God, in Christ, continues to cultivate a garden - the Church. In fact, one of the oldest images of the Church is the “cultivated field, the tillage of the Lord...planted by the heavenly Cultivator” (Lumen Gentium, 6). Christ is the Seed that the Spirit matures into the Fruit of the Spirit. It is fruit of a Christ-kind, each of the nine characteristics, first and foremost, belong to Jesus. They are the supernatural outcome of being connected to Christ, the concrete evidence that we are cooperating with the Spirit of God within us. They aren’t the result of just “trying hard” and they can’t be faked. All of us recognize the counterfeits - lifeless love and kindness dispensed through gritted teeth. When we review the list of characteristics - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - it can seem like an impossible task. Maybe we feel broken beyond compare, barely able to keep the irreducible minimum of the Christian life. If it seems like too ambitious a project, impossible for us to do it without God and if we feel inadequate to the task, we are right where God needs us. “He will make the deserts bloom” (Isa. 35:1).
Thomas Smith was a Protestant minister who was received into the Catholic Church in 1996. Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker, and an international presenter for the Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Smith is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School and now lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho where he farms and writes.