Akron, Ohio. Urban neighborhood.
As a family, we were what you might call "city-slickers", but we did have a fairly large backyard garden, after dad burned down the garage. He mixed the ashes with the soil; he said it was good for the crops. That year our pumpkin patch made enough noise that we had to fend off the neighbor kids. We caught one boy with knife in hand searching for the largest orange carvable vegetable shortly before Thanksgiving.
But the harvest season, thank God, didn't last very long. The great majority of time spent in the garden under the hot sun with shovel and hoe was dirty, sweaty and fruitless. So defense season - defending our veggies - was short.
Jerusalem, Palestine. Palace of the King.
Today's Gospel talks about a man in pain. While Jesus is out and about on the loose working miracles, John the Baptist finds himself in a dark dungeon cell. He spent his life preparing for the Messiah. He even sent his own disciples to follow Jesus. He had called him the "Lamb of God." He gave it all, and now he's in need of help, under the lock and key of Herod's prison. Perhaps Jesus has forgotten him? The possibility lurked in the back of John's mind. Maybe he should ask Jesus what the story is...
Avila, Spain. Carmelite monestery.
St. Teresa of Jesus when speaking on prayer, never claimed that we normally experience God through visions or locutions. In fact, the ordinary path for God to make himself present to us involves nothing extraordinary. God reveals his indwelling presence to us by prompting virtuous actions within us.
This goes totally contrary to our expectations, but supports entirely everything we've ever experienced in the real nitty-gritty of life and prayer. We know God is active within us when we are, for example, prompted to grow in faith, to love others more generously, to be more patient, or to sacrifice more of our leisure for a friend.
No one expects gardening, by the fact of working long and hard with dirty hands and breaking back to get easier. The point of gardening are the vegetables! And even while carrying heavy loads of cucumbers and beans, after a hot and sweaty hour of harvest labor, we do not come to that strange conclusion that our muscles should ache less. Rather we rejoice that we reap the "fruit of the vine" which the Lord, in his kindness, has made grow, surrounded by the "work of our hands."
And when John's disciples arrive, Jesus sends them back to John with a message of fruits; a message of what he is doing: Blind see, lame walk, lepers are cleansed.
Do we not often feel exactly like John? We don't care about Jesus' miracles in the lives of others, as much as we care about being freed from prison. We aren't interested in the fruits of prayer, about virtuous actions being prompted within us, rather we would prefer that our difficulties be taken away, or that our feelings be rewarded with some nice cozy consolation.
If this Christmas you are awaiting freedom or sore-free labor, or fuzzy feelings, then Christmas will leave you sitting sad in your dungeon cell. If you focus rather on the fruits, then you will find your heart filled with joy, when baby Jesus chooses to give you a pumpkin for Christmas.