Some years ago a survey asked people who were aged 95 or older what they'd do differently if they could live their lives over again. Here were people who’d had a good innings - Been there, seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt. And here’s the top 3 things they listed: They said they'd reflect more. They said they'd risk more. And they said they'd do more things that would outlive them. That is, they’d do more things that would make and leave their mark, more things that would count. In other words they'd live more fruitful or productive lives, lives with something to show for it. An appropriate idea, perhaps, for this ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’
I am sure we’ve all had one of those days where you get to the end of it and think: Well, what have I got to show for that? It’s very frustrating, isn’t it? Productivity is important. But Jesus didn't use jargon words like productivity. He talked simply about bearing fruit and the tremendously vivid picture of a vine and its branches. In fact the idea of bearing fruit is so central to the Christian life that there is a evident link between simply being a Christian and bearing fruit. There can be no such thing as simply professing the Christian faith, of merely ticking the box to say ‘Christian’ or ‘C of E’, yet in our daily lives showing no fruit of it. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15v5)
Our culture has two influential and widespread lies. The first lie concerns who we are. Promoting the ideal of self-expression, it says in seductive tones, ‘Just be who you want to be’ and implicitly you won’t have to change anything about yourself. The second lie concerns what we are to want. Promoting the ideal of self-fulfilment, it says with equal persuasiveness, ‘Just want whatever you want’ and don’t be constrained by convention or tradition: the world is for your taking.
However western society seems to be suffering from an epidemic of dissatisfaction and depression which may suggest that these lies about who we are and what we desire are hopelessly inadequate. In which case the biblical idea of bearing fruit may be a helpful corrective:
With regard to the first lie of self-expression, the wisdom of the Bible calls us not to be content with what we are but to seek to be changed for the better. And the New Testament offers us the challenge of imitating Jesus Christ. There is a ‘aspiration to transformation’ and it should be seen in ‘the fruit of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5v22-23).
With regard to the second lie of self-fulfilment, biblical wisdom rejects this too, and encourages us instead to seek what we might call ‘public fruit’. The goal of our lives is not to seek what we want for ourselves but what others need. We are to bear fruit for others and, of course, the two types of fruit are linked: it is out of the personal fruit that the public fruit comes. Transformed lives give rise to transforming actions.
All of which begs the question - what fruit are you bearing?
with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar