The First Tomato

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I harvested my first tomato of the summer last week. It wasn’t the first on the block, it wasn’t the largest or the prettiest. But wow! Was it good! It wasn’t since last summer that I ate a “real” tomato and I almost forgot what this home-grown fruit tasted like. I don’t do anything special when growing tomatoes. I don’t give my plants fertilizer not do I water them with holy water. I pull weeds and occasionally give them a drink when it hasn’t rained, but I hardly did that this summer. And so without much effort, I’ve got a wonderful reward.

This experience reminds me of a gospel passage that we heard at church a few weeks ago. Jesus talks about the growth of God’s kingdom in the simple example of a farmer who plants seeds and then almost forgets about them. He goes to bed each night and gets up in the morning and before he knows it, the seeds are sprouting, then growing, then growing tall, then ready for the harvest. How does this happen? Jesus says that the farmer doesn’t really know. It’s just the inevitable unstoppable power of growth that is wondrous to behold.

Grandparents know this experience when their distant grandchildren come for a summer visit. “Look how tall you’ve gotten!”, they exclaim after not seeing their grandkids for several months. I notice it too after only a few months when kids show up at church in the fall after being away during the summer. And parents wonder, “When did THIS happen?” when seemingly suddenly their kindergardener is packing the car for college.

Now parents put a lot more work into growing their children than I do in growing tomatoes. There is constant feeding, watering, weeding, training, praying, teaching, pruning, etc. Still, it’s a miraculous wonder that in the blink of an eye, the kids are out of diapers and heading off to school; and then off to middle school; and then high school; and then beyond. I’m sure my almost 90-year-old dad sometimes wonders how it is possible for him to have a son in his 60’s. Where did the time go?

The most important thing about harvesting the first tomato of the season is to taste it. I mean, REALLY taste it. Soon there’ll be a flush of home-grown tomatoes and we’ll be putting them into BLTs and eventually making sauce with the end of the season crop. But the experience of biting into that first tomato is almost holy. Time stops for a moment. Everything is about that encounter with the first fruits of the season.

The lesson here is that there are many opportunities to appreciate the fruits of our labors in our children and grandchildren. But the daily grind and the familiarity with our presence to one another dulls us to the reality of the extraordinary miracle that are captured in the ordinary moments of our lives. The next time you find your child sleeping on the couch, stop. Look at her. Look at him. What do you see for the first time? No summer-grown tomato is as precious as what you see in this moment. REALLY “taste” the ordinary miracle that sleeps in front of you.

When we lose a child to deadly illness, accident or suicide, we hold on to the smallest reminders of the child. We treasure even the simplest things. For those who have not suffered such a loss, let these next weeks of summer be an opportunity to slow down and treasure our loved ones.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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