It is mid-September, after all. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that many of the “annuals” in our flower pots are looking a little tired.
The one exception: the marigold. It’s been blooming to beat the band in recent days. It’s the one flower, in fact, that keeps me from thinking it might be time to pull the plug on our entire array of backyard flora.
But here’s the thing: We didn’t plant marigolds this year. This stem of burnt-orange beauty is a volunteer – the progeny of gardening work done in years past.
Sounds silly perhaps, but something about that flower makes me feel like I’ve been cheating. Like I don’t deserve this burst of late-season beauty, because I did so little to earn it.
Of course, the truth is my debt runs much deeper than I typically care to imagine. I don’t mind taking credit for the other flowers in the pots, you see, or the colorful blooms we’ve been blessed with throughout the growing season. No, I was “in at the start” with them…buying the seedlings, prepping the soil, watering them nearly every day…so I’ve got some skin in the game.
Except my “start” was very much a head-start, wasn’t it? I’m much more like a steward than an originator of the complex life-form that is the flowering plant. On a good day, I might be able to find the seed. But causing it to germinate – providing the initial spark of life – that’s a task way above my pay-grade.
And I’m wondering if this insight is something like what Jesus is trying to help us understand when he shares the vexing parable of the dishonest steward. We tend to “tsk-tsk” a bit when we learn that the steward has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But then Jesus winds up praising the guy:
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
In my case, the volunteer marigold offers a glimpse of this necessary relationship to dishonest wealth – and a reminder of the need to be both humble and grateful regarding the many gifts the Holy One pours out into our lives. We need only open our eyes in order to recognize a multitude of “head-starts” that play to our benefit each and every day. And once we see them, it’s only appropriate that we then look for ways to pay them forward in gratitude.
Speaking of which: This week we’re marking the 20th anniversary of the ACTS Retreat coming to our parish, the first in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. My wife Gerri and I worked up a brief reflection to celebrate the gift that ACTS has been in our lives. You can read it here:
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.