Producing Fruit: a modest proposal

Jesus talks about being fruitful, producing fruit. Somehow, this concept of producing fruit sometimes rubs me the wrong way. Truthfully, I get tired of producing; that’s all society appears to be looking for anymore. If you can produce you’re in, if you can’t, get out of the way. Society has become like an overheated engine cranking out production and services at full throttle. Can you perform? How soon can you deliver? How much can you produce?

Sometimes I wonder where all this is headed, especially when I think about how our lives have changed in the past few decades.  It used to take 20 minutes to reheat leftovers in the oven, then the microwave came along and I find myself impatiently tapping, barely able to wait 2 minutes to reheat food.  Like everyone else I know, I want everything now: instant rewards, instant food, instant delivery.

Yakov Smirnoff the Russian comedian, who emigrated to the United States, says he wasn’t prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk–you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice–you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, What a country!”

But American or Western Society is not so amazing to those who have to deal with everyday life. As a result of the “instant gratification” mentality, we see the world changing to fit the industrial or manufacturing model.  Education is a prime example.  Teachers are expected to bring all students to the same level of knowledge and understanding, teach the same units in a uniform manner, and attain uniform test scores.  We call this No Child Left Behind, but in fact, all children are left behind because we teachers are forced to teach to the test and not above the expectations due to time constraints.  Never mind the fact that we can’t control the raw material with which we are required to work.

Another example is the way young people communicate with each other.  They bring their cell phones with them everywhere, they’re constantly texting each other and when they talk online, they can easily talk to a dozen people simultaneously.

In the  workplace: if you broke a record in sales, or production last month, your boss is likely to tell you: “that was great for last month, now this month you need to top it to get that bonus.”  Another possibility is that your company isn’t keeping up with the competition and needs to merge or sell out and things are about to change for you-not necessarily for the better!

Even some churches seem to get caught up in the production frenzy of the world: you must grow, you must have more than one service, you must expand and offer more and better services and ministries than others.  It’s about marketing and big screens and big numbers.

It’s no wonder that people live in such a state of anxiety and stress. The demands on us to perform, to adapt, to “get more results” are wearing us down.

One of the reasons I like going to someone else’s church is because I get to experience church as a sanctuary, and not as a place where I am responsible for so much of what goes on.  I don’t have to plan the weekly homily, I don’t have to order supplies or set things up or train others to assist.  I just show up and sit and pray!  I get to worship and find rest and inner peace from the stress of my everyday life.  I can just “be”.

So, this evening I come to church and I hear Jesus telling me to bear much fruit. Can you blame me for being a little irritated by that?

Then it occurs to me that, perhaps, I need to be a little more trusting. Maybe there is more in this Gospel than meets the eye. What does Jesus mean by bearing much fruit? How does he say I  get to the point of bearing much fruit?

According to Murray’s commentary one thing we may notice about Jesus’ words is “the difference between work and fruit. A machine can do work; only life can bear fruit . . . Work implies effort and labor; the essential idea of fruit is that it is the silent, natural, restful produce of our inner life.” [1]

So when Jesus talks about fruit he doesn’t mean performance? He doesn’t mean producing, producing, producing? When Jesus talks about fruit, he is not talking about the gardener who performs duties, but rather the plant that is cared for. The gardener may labor to give his apple tree the digging and fertilizing, the watering and the pruning it needs; he can do nothing to produce the apple: The tree bears its own fruit.

Fruit grows naturally, the branch does not do anything to produce the fruit; it is genetically predetermined to bear fruit when . . . it remains connected to the tree or vine and gets the necessary nutrients.

When Jesus said: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” he did not say to us: be successful, he said: be fruitful!

According to Henri Nouwen (in a sermon on this scripture passage) Jesus makes a distinction between doing and being. Nouwen says: “Success comes from doing, and fruitfulness comes from being.” [3] Being in and with God, with others and with ourselves.

So Jesus does not say: do more! He is saying: be more! Be all that you can be as you remain in me! Spend time with God, get to know God deeper. Let God love you. Experience God’s inner peace once again, and his joy. Take a break from the world and be with God, get in touch with your true self and become centered.

Don’t worry about fruit or success. Fruit is spiritually predetermined when you remain in Jesus. Fruit is a given. It will grow naturally out of your life of centeredness, peace and love.

It is said about Martin Luther that when he had a particularly busy day of work ahead of him, he would schedule extra time for reflection and prayer in the morning and then was able to be more effective in his work. He saw the need to take a longer break to reflect and recharge spiritually and get on with work.

Steven Covey, in the Seven Habits, uses the example of the lumberjack who takes frequent breaks to rest and sharpen his ax and as a result gets more trees cut than any of his colleagues who work away in a frenzy. [4]

Abiding in Jesus means . . . taking a break from the crazy world
Abiding in Jesus means . . . restoring inner peace, finding spiritual refreshment
Abiding in Jesus means . . . being assured of his love for us, so we can love others
Abiding in Jesus means . . .that you don’t have to be the one in charge . . . He is!
Abiding in Jesus means . . .  You cannot help but be fruitful!

Contrary to my first impression of this text, Jesus doesn’t want us to do more. He calls us to do . . . less! Jesus invites us to take a break. Take a break from the busyness of life. Take a break from performing. He wants us to be. Simply be. Truly be. Bearing fruit is about being in God; being loved, being centered, knowing that you are held in the arms of a loving God.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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