Saturday, June 29, 2013

Under the Durian Tree

Church of Ss. Peter and Paul
Day 2 of Triduum in Preparation for Patronal Feast

Picture: cc sj liew

Sisters and brothers, do you like durian? I remember, when I was still a full-time National Serviceman, there were times when our training took us to places where there were many durian trees. And, often, we would see people sitting very patiently under those trees. Do you know what they were doing? I’m sure you can guess. They were waiting for the durians to fall. As you know, it’s really quite easy to tell when durians ripen. They simply fall off the tree on their own. You don’t have to pluck them. All you have to do is to be at the right place at the right time, and you’ll enjoy a feast. For free. Ripe and tasty durians straight from the tree.

I mention this because, on this second day of our Triduum, our Mass readings are all about what happens when fruit ripens. And not just any kind of fruit. But fruit from the tree that we were describing on the first day of our Triduum. Those of us who were here yesterday will remember that we were talking about a special kind of knowledge. Not just the knowledge that makes us very smart. Or the kind that may help us to earn a lot of money. Or the knowledge that may win us many friends and fans, make us very famous and popular. What we were talking about yesterday was that special kind of knowledge that enables us to enter the kingdom of heaven. The knowledge that results from an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. The knowledge that comes from putting Jesus at the centre of our lives. Making Him the foundation of everything that we think and say and do.

If we were to think of this knowledge as a tree–maybe even a durian tree–what do you think the fruit of this tree looks like? And what do you think happens when this fruit ripens? These are the questions that our Mass readings help us to answer today. Notice, first, what this fruit looks like. Notice, for example, what happens to Peter in the gospel. You may remember that yesterday we were talking about what happened to Peter at the place called Caesarea Philippi. How he responded to Jesus’ question, Who do you say I am? We said that although Peter answered with the right words–you are the Messiah–he didn’t really understand their proper meaning. He couldn’t accept that Jesus was the kind of Messiah who would have to suffer, and die, before being raised to life on the Third Day.

In today’s gospel, Peter is once again questioned by Jesus. This time we are no longer at Caesarea Philippi. We are at a place called the Sea of Tiberias. And much has happened in between. Peter has witnessed the arrest, the torture, and the crucifixion of Christ. He has experienced his own shameful weakness. How he denied his beloved Master and Friend. Not just once, but three times. After all these experiences, Peter is finally getting to know Jesus a little better. In today’s gospel, Jesus deepens this knowledge by asking Peter another question: Do you love me? And notice what happens when Peter says yes. Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs. To look after my sheep.

Not only that, Jesus also tells Peter what will happen if he truly loves the Lord. When you were young, Jesus says, you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go. To love is to somehow hand over control of one’s life to the beloved. Isn’t this what parents do all the time? They may stay up all night, for example, caring for a sick child, even though they may have to go to work first thing the next morning. Or some parents may spend much valuable time volunteering at a primary school in the hope of securing a place for their child... who may still be only four years old. This is the result of love. When people allow the seed of the knowledge of Christ to be planted in their hearts and in their lives, the seed grows into a tree, which starts to bear fruit. And this is what the fruit looks like. When we truly love the Lord, we begin to care for others as well. Even to the extent of doing things we would rather not do. Or allowing ourselves to be led to places where we would rather not go.

We see something similar in the second reading too. Here, the apostle Paul describes his own experience of meeting and falling in love with Christ. Notice the stark contrast between what Paul was like before and after he met the Crucified and Risen Christ. Before he met Christ, Paul was an enthusiastic persecutor of Christians. He went out of his way to arrest and imprison them. But after he met the Lord, after God chose to reveal his Son to him, Paul became the most famous and hardworking apostle of all. Going to great lengths, travelling to distant places, just to proclaim Christ to the pagans. To share with as many people as he could, the wonderful Good News that Jesus has saved us from our sins. This was Paul’s way of doing the same thing that Jesus had asked Peter to do. In telling the world about Jesus, Paul was caring for the Lord’s sheep. Feeding the Lord’s lambs. Even going to places where he would not otherwise have wanted to go.

But if this is what the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Christ looks like, what happens when it ripens? We find the answer in our first reading today. And, strangely, it’s very much like what happens when durians ripen. Like the people I saw during National Service, in our first reading, we also find someone sitting and waiting. He’s sitting and waiting at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. And, although he may not know it, he’s longing to taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The fruit from the tree of love. He begs from Peter and John. Two of the Lord’s closest friends. Two of the people who have come to know Jesus best of all. And notice what happens. The fruit falls from the tree. And the hungry taste of it. The one who was a cripple from birth begins to walk again. And not just to walk, but even to jump and to praise God. And to lead others to marvel at the mighty works of God.

Sisters and brothers, this is what happens when the fruit of the knowledge of Christ ripens. It falls from the tree and it blesses people with its sweetness. So that the lame may walk, the blind may see, the deaf may hear, the dejected may rejoice, the lonely may find companionship… And this fruit is meant to grow not just in the lives of the first disciples. Not just in the time of the early church. It is meant to grow in our lives, and in our own time, as well. In yours and in mine. For isn’t it true that there are many around us who, whether they know it or not, are still sitting and waiting to taste of the sweetness of this fruit? There are many around us, both near and far, who have yet to experience the joy of knowing Christ. Who may only know the name of Jesus, without experiencing the power that comes from trusting in Him. In surrendering their lives into His gentle hands. People who are materially poor. Unable to find a proper roof over their heads, even in a place like Singapore. People who are socially poor. Unable to connect with others in a meaningful way. People who are spiritually poor. Who may have many possessions, or who may busy themselves with many activities, but whose hearts often remain so painfully empty. 

Sisters and brothers, there are many of such people all around us. People sitting and waiting at their own Beautiful Gate. We have only to open our eyes and to look. As followers of Christ, as those who have received the teachings of the great apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, we too are called to offer the fruit of our love for Christ with all of those who need it.

My dear friends, there are many people still sitting and waiting under the durian tree. Will any fruit be falling from us for them today?

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