June 22, 2016

Mango Ministry: Fruitful Lessons from a Family Tree

Everybody gets a mango! Today’s gospel reading from Matthew reminded me of the huge mango tree that was in my side yard when I was growing up in South Florida.

Family mango tree
Family mango tree circa 1979
Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20
Sometimes this mango tree bore good fruit. Actually, great fruit. In fact, too much fruit! Some years, the only way for my family to try to keep up with how much fruit the tree produced was to offer fresh mangoes to neighbors, family and friends. And yet that still wasn’t enough; there was much fruit left over. A flock of wild parrots and a pack of neighborhood squirrels were keenly aware of this fruitful food source, meaning we would have to clean up many partially eaten mangoes off the ground before they rotted.
one mango
Suddenly, one day early in the spring we noticed that something drastic had happened. The tree was still alive and well, or at least that’s how it looked. But it no longer produced fruit. What happened? In our spiritual lives one of the best ways to produce good fruit is to put the teachings of Jesus into action.

So what is it that would stop us as sons and daughters of God from bearing good fruit? Trauma can certainly be a major impediment. In the case of our family mango tree, I recall that there was a particularly hard freeze, a rare occurrence in that part of the Sunshine State, during the previous winter. So perhaps the trauma of the winter weather blocked our tree’s ability to be fruitful. 

The years passed without any more mangoes, although the tree still stood proudly and thrived in the yard.

Years later once my parents became empty nesters, they sold the house and moved elsewhere. The house changed hands a few times. When driving by one day for nostalgic purposes, my family noticed that the mango tree was gone. 

I suppose the owners decided that because this tree was not bearing fruit, it was of no use so they had it removed. That prompted me to think about another fruitful story from the Bible:
The next day as they were leaving Bethany [Jesus] was hungry.
Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went over to see if he could find anything on it.
When he reached it he found nothing but leaves;
it was not the time for figs.
And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”
Early in the morning, as they were walking along,
they saw the fig tree withered to its roots.
Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look!
The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  -- Mark 11:12-14, 20-21
If we know people by their fruits, then what is good fruit? If the old mango tree’s job had been to produce mangoes to feed people and animals, then it makes sense why the owner wouldn’t want it anymore.

But what if the tree’s job had been to produce shade and oxygen for people and animals? In that case, it was still being very fruitful.

[To read the rest of this story, click over to ATX Catholic.]