Today’s Gospel lesson includes some of Jesus’s words to his disciples before he left them. They are both instructions and explanations. He wants them to understand that they are interdependent - interdependent with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit (which they don’t know much about yet) and also with each other and all in their community. God nourishes them and sustains them not one by one but as one. As one community. They are beholden to each other just as they are beholden to God - and God has made promises to them, too, so God is beholden to them. They are all intertwined. It is that active love that we talked about last week that surrounds and supports them.
And God tends to the community by doing what all vinedressers, indeed gardeners of all types, do - by careful pruning to increase yield, to stop rogue branches from using up energy better used to create better fruit. This is not punitive, this pruning. It is shaping, and tending, done carefully and with a purpose in mind. That purpose is not punishment. It’s love. The purpose is the fruit.
Two things come to mind here. First of all, I think we are not doing so well in terms of understanding that we are interdependent, that there is a common good to be tended in community. We want what we want and we are not so good at thinking about what others need. We’re not good at considering things from others’ points of view.
This is not new - Jesus wasn’t commending the disciples for already doing this. He was urging them to become a new kind of community. But it hasn’t taken so well. Even as we are trying to broaden our view to understand that our neighbors and brothers and sisters are not just the people next door or the people born to our same parents, we struggle as a society to buy in to the concept of the common good because it butts up against our natural inclination toward selfishness, me-first-ism, where our personal freedoms and desires are our first occupation. And when our wants clash with others’ needs, when our experiences differ from theirs, we are prone to dismiss their wants and discount their experiences. This is how it is in the world.
And that’s why Jesus calls us to be different from that. We are called to be a different kind of community in which the needs of others come before our own desires and demands. And this is hard and it does not come naturally to us. So it’s still a work in progress.
The second thing is that I can’t help but wonder about what fruit I should be bearing in this time of upheaval and social distrust. I am pretty sure that when Jesus calls us to bear fruit, there are lots of different kinds of fruit that are going to be good to bear. We don’t all have to be the same kind or even the same kind in the future that we were in the past. St. Paul said it in terms of a body - that a body needs an eye and also a foot and neither is more important than the other and neither should say to the other “I have no need of you.” So the fruit we are called to bear, that we are pruned and tended so that we will bear, needs to have something to do with the needs of the larger community.
And right now, things are not going so well in society - with people lining up to take sides on almost everything, with words and behaviors and things we used to just consider norms taking on extra weight and significance. It grieves me to say that I have seen friendships and long-standing groups even in churches breaking up over things like wearing masks.
And so in this environment, what fruit am I called to bear that will beckon us back into beloved community, that will lift up the lowly, that will protect the vulnerable, that will advocate for peace and justice, that will show mercy, that will be love in a world that is filled with things and words and posturing but doesn’t seem to be very loving right now?
How can I be an example of love? Of peace? Of mercy? How can I stand up for justice and be a voice for the voiceless? How can I help shield the vulnerable? How can you?
And while some of us are called to just be those things in such a way that others will simply see and know that God is with us, others of us may be called to be more active in our loving fruit bearing. And that may make some of us more uncomfortable if we are not of that kind of variety. But as my grandfather said, and maybe yours did too, it takes all kinds to make the world go ‘round. Of course, he said it when he didn’t understand someone else. But he still knew it was true. And it is.
So, my fellow beloveds, today maybe we should take a deep breath and think - really deeply think, not this knee-jerk reaction stuff we are all doing so much of these days - really think about the common good. And go to that profound place of wonder, and wonder with God, how am I called to be love in this noisy abrasive challenging greedy hurting world? What is it that I need to be or do to bring healing and love today? What fruit does the world need me to bear - what fruit does God need me to bear in the world?
Because as it says in the Bible, we are already fruit. We are the apple of God’s eye. Already. Without doing anything to deserve it. We just are the apple of God’s eye. That transcends everything else. Is that not the very best thing? So let us bear holy fruit for God’s sake.