A Basket of Summer Fruit, and the Last of the Summer's Wine
I grew up in a gardening family. Seasonal vegetables and fruit were staples at the table, and I learned to appreciate that even though those fruits and vegetables were usually available in the supermarket (thanks to globalization), the best time to eat a particular fruit or vegetable was when they were in season locally. This was before it became hip to be a "locavore."
As a young man, I loved coming home after my summer jobs to see what was ripe in the garden. Even before going inside, I would go into the garden and check for peppers and tomatoes that were just ripe. Harvesting a few to take inside, I would indulge myself as well with a pepper or tomato that I ate right off the branch or vine. It was the best taste, ever. Warm from the sun, perhaps heavy with moisture after a morning rain...or even sharp and dry because of a paucity of water...those moments were golden ones. Time stood still, and the acidic tang of a fresh moment felt like the very epitome of privilege and luxury.
And so, when I read about the prophet Amos being shown a basket of summer fruit, my mind, heart, soul and tastebuds are right there with him. I can smell the peaches and plums. I can feel the bursting redness of the peppers, the tomatoes (I know they are "new world...bear with me!). The squish of the grapes. The aroma of the ripe olive. The just-about-to-go soft yield of the skin of the nectarine. It's all there, and I must admit that I truly KNOW to the core of my being that God is telling the prophet something important: that the bowl of summer fruit, like the peace of Israel is....fleeting.
Summer fruit is just that: summer fruit. It is only good in and for the moment when it is ready to be harvested and eaten. Other vegetables (potatoes, most winter squash, parsnips, turnips, etc) are called "keepers" for a reason. They keep.
Summer fruit does not.
And the rot is already on the vine for the people Amos is preaching to, for you see God has taken note of the injustice, the not-rightness of their society. Things are not right, and people are not right...and as a result the beloved of God, the poor and downtrodden, are being ignored and abused.
There is about to be a famine in the land, says God through the prophet. The summer fruit of God's word will perish before the harvest. The fleeting thing will flee and be gone.
During one terrible, droughty year I remember making my pilgrimage out to the back yard garden after work one day to find something to harvest, and something to snack on; and there was nothing. The plants were not bearing fruit in their season. There were no sun-warmed tomatoes or peppers to enjoy. There were no sweet carrots to nibble on.
I could afford to feel only disappointment. Imagine the despair when that summer fruit is something people depend on, something that keeps real hunger at bay. You see, Amos is reminding us with this metaphor that when it comes to us bearing fruit "worthy of repentance" and being a people who are willing to take the moment and be present to the challenges our neighbors face as they seek justice and hope in an unjust and nigh-hopeless world...we are the keepers of the summer fruit. We cannot hoard it. It will spoil. We cannot hold it back as it is not for us, but through us, that the bounty of that harvest is being given to the world.
This is our moment, the moment BEFORE the colder months come and people are in real need, to share the last of the summer wine with each other. It is our moment to act IN the word of God before it becomes scarce. This us our moment to BE the people who, like summer fruit, are burgeoning with the piquant savor of God's abundant gift of vitality and life.
What is the axiom for the day? Don't hold back ANY of the summer wine, for soon the season will end. That basket of summer fruit, the true justice of the kingdom of God, is for NOW.