Two close friends were ardent golfers. For years they wondered whether or not there was golf in heaven. So they agreed that whoever died first would come back with the news. Eventually, one died. Lo and behold, within a week she appeared to her friend in a dream and declared, "I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that heaven has superb golf. The bad news is that your tee-off time is 9:00 o'clock tomorrow morning!"

Today's gospel is about an apple tree. That apple tree is a metaphor for our lives. We are the apple tree!This Gospel has some good news and some bad news for us. The good news is that Jesus, the gardener in the story, is forgiving and compassionate. The bad news is that we are running out of time; the clock is ticking and our time is limited.

From the day we are born our days are numbered. We have only so much time to become what God wants us to be, only so much time to develop our gifts and offer them to others. We have limited time to learn to love well, to become the husbands and wives our spouses need us to be, limited time to become good parents and grandparents for our families, limited time to befriend the lonely and vulnerable, limited time to become peacemakers and justice seekers, limited time to become disciples of Jesus. Even lots of time is limited time, and eventually there is no time at all.

The apple tree in today's Gospel was not bearing fruit for a number of years. The gardener pleaded with the owner of the farm to keep the shriveled, dried-up tree alive for one more year, hoping that his nurturing efforts would result in tasty, delicious apples. But at the end of that year, it would be too late. "Too late!" : two of the saddest words ever spoken!

When we look at our lives, we see missed opportunities, poor choices, areas of neglect and indifference for which we are responsible. We don't get "dried-up" all at once, any more than does an apple tree. We don't destroy relationships by becoming monsters. We destroy them by day-to-day neglect, by hundreds of small but crucial decisions we make that dry up the life-giving, love-giving energy within us. And then it becomes "too late!" "Too late" is frightening to hear. But it underscores what power we have in the present moment of time. For if we can destroy the future by neglecting today, then we can transform the future by maximizing the present moment. With God's help we have the ability now to build a future that is worthy of us. We still have bushels of delicious apples to give the world.

So with bowed heads we pray, "Jesus, you are the Gentle, Hopeful Gardener, and we are your treasured apple trees. Till now we have not lived up to our full potential. We are scrawny, spiritually shriveled and often unable to bear the wonderful fruit you expect of us. Loosen our hard roots, water us plentifully, fertilize us vigorously and open our hearts to your life-giving efforts. Amen!

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