Wednesday, 4/27/16 – It Takes Time to Grow Fruit

VineyardDuring a fierce windstorm late last year, half of a tree in our back yard fell into our house. We had some damage to our home, but it was relatively straightforward to fix, and we paid a fair bit of money to bring our house back to normal. Several months later, we had another windstorm that knocked the other half of the tree into our house, hitting the same spot we’d repaired a few months earlier.

We cut down the remains of the tree that had twice attacked our home, and chopped it into sections. As we pulled back the bark, we discovered that – the tree remained relatively good-looking on the outside – the layers just below the bark had been infected by emerald ash borers, which killed the tree from within while still leaving it a reasonable-looking shell.

As far as my research has told me, this process took several years. It wasn’t an instant plague where a once-healthy tree was transformed over a day or two into a house-attacking death-stump.

I was reminded of this as I reflected on today’s readings. The Gospel of John selection begins with Jesus saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” Arguably the heart of the Gospel message today is to be found in today’s Alleluia proclamation (Jn 15:4A, 5B): “Remain in me, as I remain in you, says the Lord; whoever remains in me will bear much fruit.”

These words were so familiar to me that it was hard to think of anything particularly fresh or inspiring to say. But as I reflected upon them and really tried to put myself in the position of one of Christ’s disciples hearing these words for the first time, I realized something I hadn’t fully considered before.

Growing fruit takes time.

When I think of God and miracles, I often think in terms of the instant. The Jews are being chased by the Pharaoh’s armies, and God parts the Red Sea so they can escape. The followers of Jesus are hungry, and he instantly creates bountiful fish and loaves for all to eat. Saint Peter touches someone crippled from birth, “and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong.”

But today’s selection from the Gospel of John revolves around agricultural language: growing vines, bearing fruit, withering and being discarded like branches. And as I considered what these words mean, I realized that most things agricultural take time. Vines don’t grow healthy and sturdy in a day. Fruit isn’t ripe and delicious instantly. Trees don’t wither and die, ready to fall on my house, overnight.

While Christ can – and has – worked instantaneous miracles, most often God’s miracles are more subtle and take more time to manifest. And sometimes that’s a problem for us if we don’t realize that. An addict who wants to quit her vices and joins a 12-step program may be fully sincere in her desire to turn her life over to Jesus, yet she grows frustrated as temptations keep calling; her belief didn’t bear the instant fruit of freedom from addiction. Someone who strives to be a better person and sincerely opens his heart to Christ may yet continue to hurt those around him. Working through the stubbornness of our own problems can take time, even with God’s help.

Conversely, the cost of our sins is not so immediately obvious as to be like a bolt from the blue. The weight of Judas’ sin was so grave to him that he took his own life rather than seek redemption, but for most of us, the straying path is long and subtle. Forgetting to tell your spouse “I love you” probably isn’t a grave sin. Nor is neglecting her birthday. And yet, in aggregate, such missteps can lead to consumption of pornography, a broken marriage, adultery, and other acts that can mortally wound a relationship with God and place a soul in dire jeopardy. In short, by failing to earnestly accept Christ as the true vine, our soul may wither, slated to be thrown into a fire and burned.

We can – and absolutely should – repair our relationship with God when it strays so far. The Sacraments of Reconciliation and, afterward, Eucharist are designed to heal and nourish. Yet, for many, the degradation of that relationship with God is so gradual that they may not realize how far they have fallen, or how much they must atone. The tree in my yard continued to look relatively healthy, until it seemed less than healthy, and – before I knew it – it was dead; now it’s in pieces in a pile on our yard, destined to be thrown into a fire and burned.

Let us, then, recognize that God’s timetable is not our own, and the time God needs for us to bear fruit may not be the timetable that we desire. Our faith that those who remain in Christ will bear great fruit should see us through the times when we may not feel as strongly connected as we would desire. Similarly, let us be ever careful of the dangers of withering; a distance from God can begin with a single misstep, and enough justifiable missteps can make us very lost and endangered.

Christ always chose his words with infinite care, and the nature of our relationship with God was utmost on his mind. We can wither, or we can remain in Christ and bear great fruit. Either possibility may take seasons in our hearts.

Today’s Readings for Mass: Acts 15:1-6; Ps 122:1-2, 3-4AB, 4CD-5; Jn 15:1-8

About the Author

Despite being a professional writer and editor for over 15 years, Steven Marsh is more-or-less winging it when it comes to writing about matters of faith. Steven entered the church in 2005, and since then he’s been involved with various ministries, including Pre-Cana marriage prep for engaged couples, religious education for kindergarteners, and Stephen Ministry’s one-on-one caregiving. Steven lives in Indiana with his wife and son. Despite having read the entirety of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he’s still surprised at elements he rediscovers or reflects upon in new ways. The more Steven learns about the faith, the less he feels he knows; he’s keen to emphasize that any mistakes are his own.

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9 Comments

  1. Another lnspiring reading Joe. Thank you so much. God Bless you and you’re family.

  2. Teaching me to be humble , that I am nothing and nobody without God . He is the Vine and I am his branches

  3. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. Our goal in being here is to glorify God our Father. Such simplicity in the words, yet such a challenge to live our lives bearing fruit and following our Lord’s examples of discipleship. Thank you for reflection. God Bless.

  4. Hey Steven,

    Your reflection today reminds me that sometimes it’s the obvious that gets overlooked.

    “The nature of our relationship with God…”should be straightforward . Unfortunately at times we tend to reverse the order and place ourselves first and forget of all things the greatest commandment. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives a wonderful analogy of how our relationship with God should be and with a simple line, reminds us that “…without me you can do nothing.”

    So, yes, you are right Steven, follow some simple instructions and it is not hard to grow fruit. It just takes time.

    Mark

    Mark

  5. Water and sun are essential for roots to grow the vine and produce it’s fruit. Your reflection reminded me that I must remain rooted in Christ and the sacraments to bear fruit.

  6. Great article, just what I needed to hear this morning. I need to be patient, especially with myself. God uses time to bring healing to our souls. Thank you!

  7. Thank you, Steve! I have been a little disappointed and frustated lately for not bearing the fruits I have been working on. This reflection reminded me that God sometimes works on His miracles even if we are not aware of anything. It may take time for us to enjoy the fruits… but God may be already working on it without us realizing it. For now, I will work on persevering. God bless!

  8. Awesome!
    You ever just want to describe something so deep and appreciative perspective with one word?
    Thank you Steve
    J&j

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