June 13: Drive-by These Fields & Say a Prayer! (11 B)

“To what can I compare the kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed that is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth when it is sown in the ground. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” Mark 4:26-34.

Every year toward the end of winter, there is the mesmerizing sight of a California landscape with the brilliant carpet of orange, yellow, and gold beneath the bare trunks of vineyards.

Of course, it’s the mustard, growing wild or carefully planted by growers, looking forward to grapes, and the wine harvest, which takes place in September and October. More than a feast for the eyes, the mustard provides essential nutrients and phosphorus to the soil.

According to legend, Franciscan friars first spread the mustard seed years ago while cultivating their Mission churches. Planting was simple; the field workers carried the seeds in sacks hung on their backs, and each bag had a small hole, so as the farmers walked, the seeds would scatter.

Today’s gospel tells us how we need to grow our faith by cultivating the mustard seed to do beautiful things in his name. We, too, are capable of being those faithful stewards of the Lord.

Earlier in Mark’s gospel, the writer positions Jesus as the teacher and healer. As we follow Christ on his journey to Jerusalem, we also learn the details of this engagement with people in need to come to Jesus for healing, comfort, and personal attention. Recall, Jesus was a carpenter’s son, not a fisherman, nor a farmer – but a teacher, healer, and prophet.

Most Sundays, we are provided only a short passage from the gospel and generally without much context. It’s essential to read the entirety of Mark 4 because we find out that Jesus is at the lakeside, where he employs his unique teaching method of parable stories and analogies, like his use of the mustard seed.

Next week, and here’s a preview, we witness Jesus directing his disciples to move their boat to the other side of the lake. There they meet a violent storm with waves breaking upon their tiny craft. What must the disciples have been thinking?

Of course, they knew more about sailing in these waters than a carpenter’s son? As he calms the sea, the message here is to place our trust in the Lord, even when the outcome appears frightening and dangerous.

We live on a peninsula with plentiful resources from both the land and sea. Nightly, we can peek out at the lights of the fishing boats on Monterey Bay or in our cars, drive-by miles of farmland contained in the Salinas Valley.

At no time did I ever think of the health dangers of this work until the past year. To grow the produce that feeds our nation, much like the mustard seed in today’s gospel, requires painstaking effort even in the best of times. The Covid-19 winter presented an even more frightening and dangerous problem for our neighbors employed in this industry and, of course, the seasonal workers in our fields.

This past week reporter Laura Reiley and photographer Melina Mara wrote and with brilliant photography published an article entitled: “How California’s Salinas Valley went from a covid hot spot to a model for vaccination and safety,” in the pages of the Washington Post (June 5, 2021). Health experts say that we were on the brink of catastrophe because of the migration of workers from Arizona to the Central Coast of California and the potential spread of the dreaded virus.

To provide protective equipment and to vaccinate the 60,000 farmworkers in the Salinas Valley, the “Salad Bowl of the World” is the subject of their narrative story. It makes for compelling reading, especially for those of us who live here.

Over the past year, both Laura Reiley and Melina Mara examined how local and state government officials, the Grower-Shippers Association of Central California, and the nurses and doctors of the Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas in partnership addressed the Covid-19 crisis. In the article, the authors paid careful attention to the lives of farmworkers and their families in these challenging times. 

What caught my eye were the responses from the WP readers: one person called it a “feel good” story; another person wanted a more critical account. Overall, there were important insights from the readers.

Here are two of the posted responses:

True Blue & Gold writes: “Though most people drive to Southern California via the 5, Highway 101 rolls right through the Salinas Valley/Monterey Area to Los Angeles. I recommend you take Highway 101 at least once…You’ll appreciate its lush beauty and the hardworking folks whose backbreaking toil put the salads on your dinner tables throughout America. 

Tootsie 11 adds: “I drive by these fields, and every time I say a silent prayer of thanks for these hardworking folks and what they do to put food on our tables. So thankfully, they realize the importance of being vaccinated; I wish all Americans did. Thank you for the article.

Drive by these fields and say a silent prayer. Amen! Listen again to these words from today’s gospel of Mark.

“Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and though it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord, the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.’”

Saint Angela Merici Catholic Church, Pacific Grove, CA.

Prayer for Farmers and Farm Workers

Lord Jesus, in images of farming and rural life, you announced your gospel to the poor.

We pray for rural men and women, especially for those who work hard in the fields.

Give us the strength of your Spirit to be witnesses and collaborators of the creative providence.

May we always sow in ourselves and in our families the holiness and hope of Christian life, with the same zeal with which we cultivate our land.

Bless the daily efforts of farmers and farmworkers. Let us recognize the dignity of their labor. 

Raise from among us men and women at the service of the gospel, sisters and brothers to announce unceasingly your love for this world that is your own field and farm.

We give you glory forever and ever.

— Father Ermolao Portella, “Give Us This Day,” June 2021, page 12.

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