PRODUCER OR SUCKER

Rev. John Kha Tran

A newspaper reporter went to interview a successful entrepreneur. "How did you do it?" he asked. "How did you make all this money?"

"I'm glad you asked," the entrepreneur replied. "Actually, it's a rather wonderful story. You see, when my wife and I married, we started out with a roof over our heads, some food in our pantry, and five cents between us. I took that nickel, went down to the grocery store, bought an apple, and shined it up. Then I sold it for ten cents."

"What did you do then?" the reporter asked.

"Well," he said, "then I bought two more apples, shined them up, and sold them for twenty cents." The reporter thought this would be a great human interest story.

"Then what?" the reporter asked excitedly. "Then my father-in-law died and left us $20 million," the businessman said. That man prospered not because of his own ingenuity, but because he was connected (King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com).

A few years ago, one of our parishioners won the lottery. He was among a few daily Mass Catholics. I was impressed with his love for the Eucharist and his devotion to the Blessed Mother. After the morning Mass, he always visited the prayer garden and prayed before the statute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When he won the lottery, he also thought of the parish. He offered to pay off the church’s debt for us. We received the gift from this generous man because we have connection. He is connected with the parish. It makes our life easier when we have good connection. Many people are able to find job sooner because they have good connections. This is part of life.

The Best Connection

We are living in the period of history where we are able to connect to people from all over the world. The world of the internet is dominating our life activities. We are becoming more dependent on the internet services. This morning I went to the pharmacy to fill my prescription. The pharmacist apologized because her computer was down and she could not access to the internet. I had to wait for about 3 hours to have my prescription filled. When we are connected with the internet, we also have to be careful. There are hackers out there trying to hack our computers and email addresses. Recently my email address was hacked. Every day I received many unwanted emails from different sources. These emails and messages did not enhance my life or help me to do my work. Instead, they became more of a problem. I could not stop these unwanted emails. It was out of control. Finally I had to close that email address and open a new one. Living in the modern world with computer, internet, websites, Facebook, twitter, instant messages, ipad, smart phones etc. We have lot of information. It is good to have information available. We however, do not want or need all information but only the necessary ones. The source of information from the internet is overwhelming. In fact we have lost in the world of information. It is important that we are connected only to the right sources for information. Facebook is a fun way to connect with others, but I do not always like the LinkedIn services. It keeps sending me the message of updating who is connected with whom. Many of them I do not know and not interested in knowing. The most important message to be updated every day for us is the message from Jesus Christ in the Gospel reading today. Jesus is the essential connection that all of us want to stay connected with. Jesus is telling us that He is the vine and we are the branches.

In order for us to be productive in the kingdom of God, it is important that we stay connected with Jesus Christ the true vine. In the Gospel of John, Jesus identifies himself at least seven times that he is the essential source for us to be productive. He is the main server to keep us connected and functioning spiritually. He says:
I am the bread of life - 6:35
I am the light of the world - 8:12 & 9:5
I am the gate for the sheep - 10:7,9
I am the good shepherd - 10:11,14
I am the resurrection and the life - 11:25
I am the way and the truth and the life - 14:6
I am the true vine - 15:1,5

Be Productive

I am the true vine is the last of the seven sayings about Jesus. Jesus likens himself to a vine. The fruit bearing branches here are the disciples and us. God is the farmer who cultivates the vineyard. He waters and tends the soil of our life, so that we are properly nourished. God takes pride to see that we are productive in the vineyard of life. There are two implications in this saying. Clearly God expects us to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. And it also means that there is such a thing as an unproductive living. The unproductive living is pruned out. It is important that we are productive members of the Body of Christ. To be productive, we need to stay connected with Jesus Christ. He is the true vine. He is the source of our life. His spirit keeps us alive. We receive our nourishment and strength from Him to be productive.

I love gardening. I have a big garden in the backyard of the rectory. Every year I plant dozen of tomato plants. My tomato plants are always greenly looking with lot of leaves. A few years ago I visited the parents of a priest in Ecuador who own a tomato farm. Their tomato plants did not have lot of greenly leaves, but strings of big tomatoes. I asked them how to have healthy tomato plants like theirs. They taught me to cut the unwanted branches. They told me those are the “suckers.” They look greenly fat but do not produce fruit. They are called the “suckers.” They only suck the nutrition from the plants. When I cut these suckers off the plants, the tomatoes grow big and healthy. We do not want to hear that God is pruning out the unproductive branches from the vine, but that is what he says. If we are unproductive Christians, we will be pruned out of the vine. We do not think of someone as “sucker” in the life of the church, but it is a serious matter for us to consider. We don’t want to be the “suckers” and unproductive branches. Studies and reports on ministries in the church, however, have been consistently saying that only 1% of people taking actively role in church ministries. We see the same familiar faces at every function at the church. The rest are busy in doing something else. You might be productive in the secular world, but are you productive in your faith life? You and I can be productive in the life of the church as well. We can be productive in God’s vineyard if we want to. 

An Honest Mechanic

Dr. Haddon Robinson once told the story of a writer for a newspaper in Toronto, Canada who undertook an investigation into the ethical practices of auto repair shops in his town. He took a spark-plug wire off of his engine, making the car run unevenly. He took the car in to different shops and asked them to fix it. Time after time people sold him unnecessary repairs or charged him for repairs that were not done. Finally, he went to a small garage. A fellow named Fred came out, popped open the hood, and said, “Let me listen to that thing.” After a few seconds, he told the reporter, “I think I know what’s wrong.” He reached down and grabbed the wire, announcing, “Your spark-plug wire came off.” And he put it back on.

The reporter asked, “What do I owe you?”

“I’m not going to charge you anything,” Fred replied. “I didn’t have to fix anything; I just reattached the wire.”

The writer then told Fred what he was doing and that he had been charged all kinds of money by mechanics looking at that same wire. He asked Fred, “Why didn’t you charge me anything?”

Fred said, “Are you sure you want to know? I happen to be a Christian and believe that everything we do should be done to glorify God. I’m not a preacher and I’m not a missionary, but I am a mechanic and so I do it honestly. I do it skillfully and I do it to the glory of God.”

The next day in the newspaper was a headline that read, “Christian Mechanic, Honest to the Glory of God.”  (Tommy Nelson, the 12 Essentials of Godly Success (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), p. 148.

This mechanic man is not a ‘sucker’ but a productive mechanic man.