Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 23, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
Am I the only one who remembers ol’ Clara Peller’s catchy line in a fast food commercial broadcast some years ago? Playing the role of a disgruntled customer at a competitor’s hamburger stand, she sadly displays a tiny round of meat nestled in a sea of white bun. With measured cynicism she demands, “Where’s the beef?!”
The phrase caught on and at least for a while folks parodied her comment in a variety of settings. Where’s the candy?! Where’s the muscle?! …I wonder how many parents said to their kids, “Where’s the A’s?!” when they were presented with report cards?
Reading this catchy phrase back into a different era, can we not picture Jesus asking those around him “Where’s the fruit?!” And his question would be justifiably demanding.
This indeed seems to be the question that Jesus puts to the chief priests and elders in the section of Matthew’s Gospel which the Church has been reflecting on these past several weeks at Sunday Mass as we edge closer to the end of the liturgical year. These “end times” always provide a season of assessment and accountability.
The Gospel passages have portrayed Jesus in tense conversation with this group of adults whose responsibility was to announce God’s Kingdom and, more importantly, lead people into a life-style that manifested their acceptance of it. By confession of faith and by position of leadership, they were accountable for producing the fruit of God’s kingdom. “Where’s the fruit?!” was not an empty, rhetorical question. It demanded a specific response.
Of course, the chief priests and elders could have responded with some dry narrative about synagogue attendance figures, the financial report, or the listing of the numerous programs they oversaw. Although this evidence of active faith may have had its proper place, the kind of productivity that Jesus was looking for (and evidently found embarrassingly missing) was the genuine fruit of the Kingdom. If the chief priests and elders had been fulfilling their responsibilities, the fruit would be obvious: sinners would be turning from darkness and opening their hearts to God; people would be recognizing their supreme dignity as sons and daughters of God – and acting accordingly; respect for the life and welfare of others would obvious in its abundance; and, above all, justice would be evident in a genuine concern and care for anyone whom society, faith community or family had rejected as irrelevant or marginalized as worthless.
There was nothing new in Jesus’ expectations of the chief priests and elders. All of God’s people are challenged by God’s convent of love to produce this kind of fruit. It’s one thing, however, to claim affiliation with a people of faith (or religious denomination) – and quite another to produce the fruit of God’s Kingdom. Comfort in religious ritual is one thing; being fruitful is yet another.
The chief priests and elders fell silent before Jesus’ pressing inquiry. As a matter of fact, so truthful were his words that they started plotting how they might be rid of him. Theirs was the proverbial case of “kill the messenger and you don’t have to deal with the message” – or so they thought.
Before Jesus finishes with his pressing inquiry of the chief priests and elders, he turns his attention to us. He points out that the announcement and embodiment of the Kingdom has been taken away from the irresponsible and given to those who will produce the fruit of the Kingdom. “That’s us!” we may want to shout with a sense of privilege and excitement. After all, we are indeed the “nations” who now benefit from the salvation effected in his life, death and Resurrection.
Having the identity of a new Israel, however, is not sufficient. We, the newly trusted servants of the Lord, are still held accountable for bearing the fruit of God’s Kingdom. And the kind of fruit expected of us has not changed.
Before we chide the chief priests and elders of the people for being irresponsible and non-productive, we could do well to take a look into our own harvest baskets, as it were. I suspect most sincere Christians would find there an abundance of fruit. It truly is amazing, when we stop to observe, what a tremendous impact the efforts of Christians have had on our world, sin notwithstanding. We must humbly and gratefully recognize the privilege of being partners with God in the building of the Kingdom. Others, however, may do well to recognize that just “being a Christian” – even “being a Catholic” – is not sufficient. Jesus can rightfully ask of them – as well of any of us if we are irresponsible regarding what has been entrusted to us – “Where’s the fruit?!”
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
Inland Register archives
© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved