Lectionary Reflection: John 15: 1-8: Bear Fruit, not Deeds.

            Did you notice?  Warren Buffett thinks the rich should pay more taxes, yet he is doing everything in his power and using every trick and technicality he can find to avoid paying any taxes.  We are told, “test the spirits to see if they are of God” and “by their fruits you will know them.”  But what is the annoying thing here?  Is it Warren Buffett not paying his fair share – as he himself insists that the rich should pay more in order to pay their fair share?  Is it because the man is using the technicalities of the law to avoid paying taxes?  No, they are the cart, not the horse.  It is his attitude, his hypocrisy that is most annoying.  It is insisting on one thing for everyone else while doing the opposite.  That is what is irksome with Warren Buffett.  It is the hypocrisy inside the man that shines, not a good heart.

            Here, Jesus declared that he was the true vine.  It is like calling himself the good shepherd, the true light that has entered the world and so on; and there are two things I want to note here.

1.         Saying these things, putting himself at the center of the universe, making himself equal with God as the Sanhedrin well understood, can only be taken in one of two ways.  It cannot be the words of a great teacher.  No teacher in their right mind would declare themselves to be the center of the universe, in the place of God.  And it cannot be the words of a prophet.  Prophecy of any true kind is wholly dependent on God, and God (at least the Biblical, Judeo-Christian God) would never bless the words of a person who wants to supplant God with themselves.

            NO, there are only two ways to take such sayings.  Either Jesus was not in his right mind and probably should have been institutionalized for being the ultimate egotistical, self-centered fool, or he was God.  These kinds of statements make absolutely no sense in any other way.  Of course, many scholars jump through invisible, insubstantial and nonsensical hoops in the attempt to explain why Jesus himself never actually made any of these statements.  Such thinking is so twisted and requires such leaps of unfaith to swallow it is hardly worth mentioning apart from warning you to watch out for these “teachers of the law…”  But in a sense, they confirm exactly what I have suggested about this and a number of other sayings of Jesus.  The only way anyone would say such things would be if they were mad or they were God.

2.         Now, Jesus is concerned here that we remain in him, yes.  But that is not the point.  The point of remaining in him is so we can bear fruit.  Fruit is so important to both the Father and the Son, he talks about God pruning the branches so they can bear even more fruit.  The point of abiding in him is not for his sake, but for ours, to make us fruitful.  But what is Fruit?

            Again, the scholars might suggest fruit is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who are sick or in prison.  Indeed, Jesus himself talks of such things as being important.  The thing is, these are not fruit.  They are good deeds.  And if you have heard anything over the years it is likely that you cannot do enough good deeds to earn your way into heaven.  It is true.  More than that, good deeds are not something we bear.  Instead, they are the result of the faith we bear.  And more, they are the result of the fruit we bear.  Follow:  Good deeds are the cart, like paying or not paying taxes.  We need to get at the horse first, like a person’s hypocrisy.

            So we are told “by their fruits you shall know them,” and, “test the spirits to see if they are of God.”  You can’t test good deeds or even bad attitudes.  There is no need.  Such things are obvious and, as we all know, many good deeds are done, as they say, for all the wrong reasons. (Status, prestige, power over others, to get one’s name in the paper…).  No, for both of these statements to work, we have to assume fruit is a spiritual matter.  I believe Martin Luther King Junior got it right.  It is character we are talking about, and if you look again, you will see that the Apostle Paul outlines the fruit of the Spirit very well.  Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  Fill yourself, your life with these things.  Bear these things and good deeds will follow like the cart behind the horse.

            The point that Jesus – the center of the universe was making was we are to bear fruit, this fruit of the Spirit.  Yes, fruit will feed people, but the point is first to grow it.  And I wonder how many of the billions of Christians, those who claim to be abiding in Christ, have no idea that this is the fruit we are supposed to bear; that this is the work we are supposed to be doing.  I wonder how many really understand what was important to Jesus when he said he was the vine and we need to abide in him.  Abiding is not just visiting the church on Sunday or saying our prayers at night before bed.  Abiding takes work, but I wonder how many will wither because they always imagined love, joy and peace were accidental things instead of things to be nurtured and grown.  How many may already be withering and be ready to be thrown into the fire?  I wonder how many people, otherwise good Christian people just don’t get it.  Do you?

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