“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit…” Even though I am a proud, card-carrying member of the 99%, I do often wonder how the 1% live. OK, I more than wonder. I’ve been known to crane my neck while driving past magnificently landscaped mansions, to clandestinely gawking as the rich and famous alight from their hotel-provided Rolls-Royces into the swankiest shops, and to working out in my head, my very generous spending plan, were I to be the sole winner of the recent Mega Bazillion jackpot. I know what you’re thinking, “But would he be happy?” Don’t bother asking.
To this day, one of the funniest moments I’ve ever had was while I was on vacation in the Adirondacks with three other priest friends. On a lark, we agreed to buy scratch-off lottery tickets; one per person. When we gathered that night for pre-dinner supplications and libations, we decided to take turns scratching off our cards to see what, if anything, we won. In keeping with the highest ideals of my calling, I decided to ruthlessly mock each of my friends as one-by-one they came up penniless.
Finally, it was my turn. Using a shiny quarter, I scratched off the first part of the card which announced, “YOU WON!” I was elated and jumped up, taunting them yet again, just to be cruel. Next, I had to scratch off the section of the card that told me how much I’d won. (I think $6,000 was the maximum possible jackpot.) POW! There it was . . . I won $1 U.S. dollar. O, the humanity. Throwing my card on the ground, I collapsed back into my chair in utter humiliation as my friends fell out of theirs in uproarious laughter. It went on for minutes, but seemed to me a lifetime. In fact, for the rest of the week, if anyone mentioned the event again, or even thought about it, it would start another round of uncontrolled laughing.
I tell you all that because it’s true and because it speaks to a struggle I find that I and many others have, when it comes to being a Christian, and that is believing Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, wherein he says “Without me, you can do nothing.” Too often we are like children who insist on dressing ourselves, even though we can’t quite do it properly. “I can do it!” we demand, as we present ourselves, ready to go, with shoes on the wrong feet, shirt on backwards, and our favorite winter shorts.
The older we get, the “I can do it by myself,” temperament grows (thankfully) beyond dressing ourselves to far more weighty endeavors. If we have enough personal experience, we don’t need the Lord to inform our morality. If we have enough intelligence, or education, we don’t need the Lord to trust in with all our heart, nor to lean on His understanding, rather than our own. If we have enough money, we don’t need to ask our heavenly Father for our daily bread, or so our unspoken wishes go.
What would it be like to be so “free?” It’s really the primordial temptation, isn’t it: “You shall become like God.” We’ve been falling for that canard since the Garden. In the imagery of Jesus’ sermon today, we want to be the vine grower, not the vine, and definitely not the branch. We often place the hyper-successful on pedestals, showering them with both admiration and envy. They must possess Godlike qualities to have borne so much fruit. However, for too many people material success turns their gaze inward, rather than outward, or upward. Success is seen as its own reward, or, perhaps, for the more religious, as a blessing from the Lord, a sign of divine approbation. Yet we know that God sends rain on the just and the unjust.
The Gospel of John is rich with powerful prayers and admonitions of Christ, for example, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him,” (Jn 6: 56) “Love one another as I have loved you,” (Jn 13:34) and “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one.” (Jn 17:21) Today’s gospel passage contains another one, and it’s at the conclusion of our text. Jesus says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and become my disciples.”
Obviously, the term “bearing fruit” can mean different things. For the more materially minded, like the preachers of the Gospel of Prosperity, “bearing fruit” could well put you in the top 1%. But the fruit Jesus is speaking about here is the fruit which blossoms forth from having Him as our vine, and the Father as the vine grower. It is the fruit that is produced by total dependence on the Lord (Without me, you can do nothing). It is the fruit that makes us true disciples of Christ.
Father James A. Hamel is a Catholic priest who is a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. He is currently an instructor at the Air Force Chaplain Corps College at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.