I developed a deeper appreciation for the expression “low-hanging fruit” when we went on an apple-picking expedition with our grandsons the other day.
Or perhaps I should say, a taller appreciation.
On this, my first-ever visit to a commercial apple orchard, I was struck by how oddly the trees had been pruned: The bottom third of the branches – those within arm’s reach – bore a familiar shape…spreading wide in an inviting canopy of leaves. The top two-thirds of the trees, in contrast, more closely resembled telephone poles.
And fruitful poles they were – with an apple density that approached two to three times what we found on branches at eye level. When we inquired about how those “tall” apples get picked, the pruning pattern suddenly became clear: It seems the pros are hoisted into place on a special rig that travels slowly along the row from tree to tree. So if you can get all the apples to grow in one spot – like, say, on a pole rather than spread throughout a canopy – it greatly enhances the efficiency of the operation.
Which is to say, a commercially-pruned apple tree might look a little ugly to an amateur’s eye. But it’s a thing of beauty to someone who’s picking at a notch or two above my paygrade.
I thought about that notion as I reflected on the stories we hear in Sunday’s scripture readings. Both Isaiah and Matthew put their focus on vineyards — and bemoan the specific circumstances that lead to a disappointing harvest of grapes. Even the Psalmist gets into the act, chiding the Lord:
Why have you broken down [the vineyard’s] walls,
so that every passer-by plucks its fruit,
The boar from the forest lays it waste,
and the beasts of the field feed upon it?
At times in recent days, I realize how often I hear my own voice echoing the words of the Psalmist. I don’t understand how – or why – the once-reliable structures in our world seem to have come unraveled so quickly. Or, for that matter, what good can possibly come of it…when all the vineyard’s walls start tumbling down.
But if there’s consolation to be found in our present circumstances, perhaps it involves embracing this possibility: The answers may simply be beyond my paygrade. As St. Paul encourages us this week:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Christ – “the stone that the builders rejected” – has become the cornerstone. So how prepared am I to trust Christ’s lead…and assist him, obediently, in the harvest?
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.