Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fruit That Feeds the Hungry

John 15:12 - 17

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other."

The Gospel reading for today begins and ends in "love." What stirred me, though, came in the middle of the paragraph . . . the initiative of Jesus in choosing me (because I generally think that what happens in my life comes as a result of my choices, my initiative, my influence) and then the “appointment” upon me to “bear fruit.”

“Fruit” comes at the end of the tree, literally the produce of the tree’s essence. The fruit that hangs at the end of the tree only reflects what is within the tree, what begins in the roots and is real through the trunk. The fruit that appears at the end of a branch is always consistent with what is happening in the roots and within the trunk of the tree.

Further, at the right time, the tree drops the fruit or it is picked. It does the tree no use to hold onto fruit. In fact, to do so would do great harm to the health of the tree. The tree, rather, lets go of the fruit, trusting that with a healthy root system, with bark in place, with a trunk sturdy to bear the tree’s weight, more fruit will come.

I tend to think of the fruit that grows at the outer limbs of my life as my creativity, my giftedness, and all the ways I spend myself in the world. That takes a number of forms for me, as yours does for you. Always, though, the fruit expresses what is within the root system and trunk. So the fruit is not the only thing going on. In fact, in order to be fruitful it’s more important to tend to the roots, to nourish the unseen parts of the tree than to obsess with what is seen.

It’s a metaphor that helps me understand who I am and how I am invited to express my being in the world. For the unseen, interior, more soulful, rooted aspect of my existence is my essence, my true “name.” In another analogy, it contains the song I’m to sing in the world. The fruit at the end of the branch, then, is the tangible expression of that essence in the world. In short, it is what I do or what I produce.

In the John 15 passage, I hear the invitation of Jesus to bear fruit in the world, that is, to feed the world with my unique fruitfulness. It’s not as easy as it sounds . . . for I recognize in myself a tendency to want my fruit to look like someone else’s fruit.

I see some tremendous good being done in the world and I want to be a part of that. I want to do it just that way! I want to join my life to that train, to that person, to that ministry, to that movement.

I’m afraid traditional expressions of Christianity don’t do us many favors here. We’re accustomed to hearing or reading that there are certain things we should all do as Christians, the non-negotiables of Christian life that are for all of us. It’s a kind of one-size-fits-all contemporary Christianity. There are certain things that real Christians do, and of course, certain things that those who are not Christians ("unreal Christians"??) do!

Really, though, I think that’s part of the naiveté of the religious people of Jesus’ time, and partially why he pushed back so hard against them. They insisted on laws that everyone followed and a lock-step, mindless adherence to a system for the sake of adherence to the system. The end result was a monochromatic religion in which the personal creation of each human was distilled away.

How do I – and how do you – find my uniqueness and the particular way that I’m invited to live out my vocation and spend the fruit of my life in the world?

In one of his early books, Frederick Buechner wrote that vocation or calling is that place where your deepest love/passion meets the hunger of the world. That’s still a helpful way for me to think about calling.

So I consider what I love, what passions run wild in my soul. That’s the essence of my root system, the base of my “tree.”

Then I consider what the world around me is hungry for. What do the people around me need? What is the cry of my life-world? Do I have any fruit on my tree to offer this hunger?

There are some hungers around me that I can acknowledge, but if I try to feed them I will only do more harm than good. The fruit I have may not satisfy every hunger. I have to know my limitations, what I actually have so that I’m not trying to give fruit I do not actually have to give. I cannot give someone else's fruit. I cannot do all things. I cannot give what I do not have. I cannot be all things to all people.

But there are some cries that I hear regularly, and they are cries for which I have some fruit, borne of my unique tree. It is this fruit Jesus invites me to offer . . . the fruit I have, not the fruit I don’t have.

For me this is the intersection at which I’m invited to live out the one-of-a-kind life that God has appointed to me.

1 comment:

Brenda A-B said...

In the midst of a busy Saturday, I have been contemplating this metaphor as I run errands and complete chores. How do I find my unique and particular way to spend the fruit of my life in the world?

But the question might be premature because I’m not sure I’ve even identified my fruit yet. I’m not yet sure how I’m called to use my faith to feed the hunger of the world around me. And I’ve been trying to deny my feelings of urgency around naming that fruit. I tell myself it’s not time yet, that this is the season of my life to tend my roots, grow a sturdy trunk, and develop strong and balanced branches. But still I can make myself, if not crazy, then certainly distracted by watching for fruit, ready to pluck the not-quite-ripe berry or the still-green peach.

Sour fruit is not what the world needs. So, in my season of growing, I pray and read and write and try to pay attention to the things that are happening inside and out. Maybe, in the meantime, someone can lean and rest awhile on my trunk and find shelter under my leaves as we wait for the fruit I trust God will speak into being.