One of the more comedic scenes in family life — frustrating, I suppose, depending upon whether you’re just an onlooker or the poor parent involved — is the drama of a child who decides he’s had enough of his parents and either wants to advertise for new parents or to run away from home. 

I think most kids have an innate sense that no other parents would be crazy enough to take them, so they give up on that idea pretty quickly. Running away from home doesn’t work out much better. I ran away from home once, and it was a pretty miserable 20 minutes spent about a block from my house.

The reasons the idea of running away from home is so absurd are that A.) we love our parents, B.) we know they love us (if we’re blessed to have loving parents), and C.) we depend upon them for everything. Our parents have given us life, they take care of us when we’re young, they teach us and help us to become adults. Life on the streets looks pretty bleak pretty quickly to a kid who’s run away from home.

By extension, we should recognize that our relationship with God has basically the same dynamic, and that the logic here is even more inescapable. God is not just a good father; He is the perfect Father. He has not just given us many things; He has given us everything. He does not just teach us and feed us; He gives us the saving truth of the Gospel and the Bread of Life. Our complaints against God are not only dwarfed by the good things He gives us; they are ultimately absurd.

Nothing we complain of, no misfortune we face in this life of many misfortunes, would have any meaning for us if it were not for the existence of God’s gifts in the first place. We complain of sickness because there is a God-given gift of health. We complain of poverty because there is a God-given gift of prosperity, or at least “break-evenness.” We complain about loneliness because there are God-given gifts of family and friendship. We grieve over death because we cherish God’s gift of life.

We need to be grateful, and to remain grateful, for all that God has given us. There are legitimate ways to express our disappointments and frustrations to God. There are lots of Psalms that do just that. But we must never forget all the good things God has done for us, and promises to do for us here and hereafter.

The common thread in all of this, of course, is that the good things we enjoy in this life are all gifts from God. We are not the source of any of these gifts. We can and do cooperate with God to enhance our lives and the lives of others in certain ways. But God is the Source of all the good things we hold dear. And even when these good things are taken away, God promises His faithful people blessings beyond any measure in the life to come.

We need to be grateful, and to remain grateful, for all that God has given us. There are legitimate ways to express our disappointments and frustrations to God. There are lots of Psalms that do just that. But we must never forget all the good things God has done for us, and promises to do for us here and hereafter.

So, one of the ironies of our complaining against God is that God has given us everything we have and doesn’t deserve our complaining or anger. He has not failed us. Another irony, however, is that our complaining easily distracts us from the very real ways we fail God.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 10:17-24), Jesus not only teaches with a parable, but very deliberately picks up on an Old Testament prophesy to speak of His people as a vineyard. In the Book of Isaiah, despite all the good things done to cultivate this vineyard, it gives only wild grapes and not good ones. In Sunday’s Gospel, we don’t even have a chance to see the quality of the fruit, because those sent to reap the harvest are killed, beaten, and stoned. In a very clear foreshadowing of His own crucifixion, Jesus says that even the landowner’s son was killed by the evil tenants.

There was an immediate application in this parable to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time and before, who resisted the Old Testament prophets and even the Messiah and Son of God Himself. The same can be said of the “wild grapes” in Sunday’s first reading (Job 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17). The immediate application was to the unfaithful people of Israel.

But the Scriptures are never merely a history lesson. The word of God speaks directly to you and to me today. The Church is the new Israel, the People of God. Jesus tells us in John 15:1-8 that He is the Vine and we are the branches:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.

He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.

You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Jesus calls to us, but far too often we do not answer His call. We do our own thing. We think, and speak, and act in ways that are self-centered and self-gratifying. We follow the call of the world, and we bear the world’s fruit. Our lives look more and more like what we see on television and less and less like what we see in the Gospel.

What fruit does Jesus want us to bear? The fruits of faith, hope, and especially love. In a word, the fruit of holiness. Jesus says in the very next verses from John 15:

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.

If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Son of God comes and gives Himself to us in His Body and Blood. One of the most important reasons He does this is to strengthen us in Christian love. In the Eucharist, all the love that brought Jesus to the Cross for us becomes present once again, and we are able to consume this love so that we will grow and bear the fruit of love in our lives. 

May we celebrate the Eucharist this Sunday with great gratitude for all that God has given us. May we welcome Jesus into our hearts. And may we have a firm commitment to do everything we can do to bear the good fruit of lives that are like Christ’s.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.