By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

This Sunday’s Gospel includes the very important line, “Through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit.” There is something mysterious about how fruit appears. The farmer creates favorable conditions and plants seeds, but he can’t reach inside of the seeds and make them germinate, or grow, or fructify.

In the Christian life, there are two kinds of fruitfulness that are complementary. The first kind of fruitfulness is the interior experience of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all listed by Paul in Galatians 5. These come about by being rooted in Christ. How do they come to be? I don’t know, I just know that the more I seek to abide in Christ, the more the Holy Spirit abides in me and I get to experience His fruitfulness. It’s kind of like the icing on the cake of loving God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths. This kind of fruitfulness is essential for the next kind of fruitfulness.

The other kind of fruitfulness is what happens when we then commit to loving our neighbors. It’s the fruit of a Christian witness that shares good news with the poor—both the spiritually and materially impoverished. We have the amazing opportunity and responsibility, if we are disciples of Christ, to go and make disciples. Now, we can’t reach inside of people and make the seed of the gospel germinate in their souls. We can’t make them grow into spiritual maturity. We can’t make them experience the fruit of the Spirit or get them to evangelize their neighbors. All we can do is plant seeds and create favorable conditions. The favorable condition we can create is our trustworthiness—our witness consistently of a Christian life motivated by love.

The seeds we plant are the good news—offers to pray for people, asking questions sincerely of where people are in their journey of faith, letting them know that Jesus does in fact save, and that He wants to save them from meaninglessness, from sin, and from despair, etc. There’s a misquote of St. Francis out there: “Preach the gospel at all times, and use words when necessary.” If we take that quote seriously, any time we use words, they should be good news. If we use words to tear people down, to spread bad news untouched by the gospel, to gossip, we’re planting weeds and destroying favorable conditions for the seeds of the gospel to flourish.

When I look around the city of Jackson, my heart yearns for fruit, especially fruit that will abide. I see the barren patches of issues that have faced Jackson for decades. I see the seared patches that came as the result of COVID. I see families struggling. I wonder, then, when the fruit will come. But as long as I’m preoccupied with fruit, I’m preoccupied with something I have no control over.

I need to occupy myself with creating favorable conditions and planting seeds. And before that, I need to occupy myself with staying rooted in Christ. Growth and fruit are up to God. The more I trust Him, the more I’ll be free to play the role of a farmer. I pray for us all to experience the fruit of the Spirit, and that Jackson might experience an explosion of fruitfulness from missionary disciples deeply rooted in Christ!

Joseph Gruber

Parish FOCUS Missionary