In John’s Gospel, it comes from the lips of Jesus at dinner with his disciples during in his final hours. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” It comes as part of his final instructions; Jesus is imparting his most important lesson at a critical hour, and his word is “bear fruit.”
In Matthew’s Gospel, where we will find ourselves for the duration of Year A, the same admonition comes near the beginning. This time, it isn’t Jesus who is offering this important lesson, but rather his cousin, John the Baptist. The NRSV translates it prett close to the Greek, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,” but I’m finding myself partial to the New Living Translation because it parallels nicely with the Johannine Last Supper, “Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God.”
At Saint Paul’s we often ask the question, “if we closed our doors today, would anybody notice?” Other times, people are asked about their personal lives, “If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be evidence to convict you?” Both are kind of cheesy ways of raising awareness of an issue that was at the heart of the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus: Are you bearing fruit?
Does your life look any different than the lives of those for whom their god is their belly? Is the call to repentance, literally to change direction, evident in your life? Or, in a country where it is quite easy to be a Christian and where the Church is rather intimately tied into the culture of the empire, is your life simply about the pursuit of selfish goals and desires?
A tree bears fruit. It is simply what it does. However, it can only do so in the right conditions. Bearing fruit requires fertilization, the right amount of rain, proper sunlight, and the occasional pruning. The same goes for the life of faith. Are you studying the Scriptures? Are you taking time for prayer? Have you learned to listen for God’s voice? Is God asking you to repent, to give something up, or to take something on? Are you bearing fruit worthy of repentance?