As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. (John 15:4,5)
I’m fascinated with fruit it seems, addicted to it perhaps. Not the fruit that grows on trees, mind you, but the fruit people can produce. Sure peaches and figs and apples and oranges are good. If tomatoes are fruit (and technically I guess they are), I love them. But what really gets me going is the fruit of our labors. When I was a little kid, I used to lie awake at night and think about how fast I could ride a bicycle or how many hits I might get in the baseball game the next day. When I got a little older I thought about the next big tennis match or what other office I might get elected to at school. Then I began to dream about what I might do with my life that would really make a difference in the world.
I’ve always thought about what I could do next and how well it might be accomplished. Over the years, those thoughts have been about different things but a certain portion of my nights is always spent thinking and dreaming about what should be accomplished the next day. There’s so much that needs to be done, so much that needs correcting, so much potential, so many things that run around in my head. And the reason it might be less of a fascination – more of an addiction – is that what is going to happen tomorrow is always more important to me than what has happened today. I forget about the events of this day as I push forward into the next day’s possibilities.
That’s what fruit is for me, oftentimes, those things that I might get done or the things that we might accomplish together. In my earlier years it seems I was rarely satisfied by anything. Now I do take more satisfaction in certain things, and am a little more accepting of things as they turn out, but accomplishments and meeting goals still hang out there as giant carrots. (I know that’s a vegetable but stick with me.)
John’s gospel, as it addresses fruit and vine and branch, is a challenge for me. It reminds me that I am often looking in the wrong direction. While I tend to look at what I might do or participate in which will be productive, the gospel reminds me that I am fruitful only to the extent to which I am sustained. Aging is beginning to show me that my body and mind aren’t perpetual motion machines. I must be fed in order to produce. As my attention is more naturally on the fruit, Jesus calls my focus back to the vine which nurtures me. As I look to the vine and feed on it, much better fruit is produced certainly. And the fruit ceases to have that ultimate value I had previously placed on it. The wonders of the vine are more spectacular than the fruit.
When I look only at the fruit, that becomes the only thing I see. There grows the compulsion to make more of it and even the confusion about who is making the fruit. Surely it is my accomplishment: I dreamed of it; I worked hard on it; I made it happen! That kind of addictive focus leads to a pretty self-centered existence.
As my attention is drawn back to the vine that sustains me I see my proper place in the whole system. I am the branch. I grow from Christ and certain fruits come from my branch. But the fruit is not my own. I am not my own. I am attached to the vine. I am Christ’s. As I abide in that vine, a new peace develops. Perhaps even more and better fruit emerges, yet the truth of the great agelessness of the vine presents itself as so much more wondrous than the very temporary fruit that has only a season.
Are you too fruit conscious? Do you only see what you are to do? Have you lost that sense of appreciation? Are you working and pushing your way through life to the exclusion of worship and adoration of the force which sustains you? If so, repent and return to the vine. The love of Christ has brought you here and it only will take you further.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.