I earned my undergraduate degree at a small liberal arts Christian college in the northeast. There is a line in the Alma Mater that says, “Her fruit trees loaded down.” My friends and I were never able to sing this with a straight face. Most of us sang it in the singular, as the only known fruit tree was an aging green apple tree near the dining hall. It has occurred to me that collectively, Christians are often more similar to that tree than they realize. The fruit we bear is scant, sour, or unattainable to people outside the orchard.
We might be approaching the idea of bearing fruit from the wrong direction. It’s often seen as one of three miss-the-mark types: obligation, evidence, or opportunity. For some, “bearing fruit” is defined as no more or less than doing good deeds. If we feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the sick or imprisoned, we’ve successfully avoided becoming the morally bankrupt goats of Matthew 25. It’s something we have to do; it’s not optional.
For others, “bearing fruit” is the proof that we are real Christians. That might include some form of doing good deeds, but it is neither limited to such nor are such necessary as proof. It’s often nebulous, and might take the form of, say, not swearing at the driver who just cut you off. There’s an element of somehow becoming a nicer or better person.
Still others look at “bearing fruit” as some combination of doing good deeds and telling people how to be saved from Hell. I personally find this one more distasteful than the others. The previous two options are empty, but they don’t carry the weight of kindness with strings attached: “I’ll feed you, but you need to listen to a sermon while you eat.” I’m all for sharing the Good News, but the primary reason for helping people shouldn’t be in order to gain their undivided attention to our religious views.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten how to just live. We’ve forgotten to simply care for a need when we see it, born out of love for a fellow human. This isn’t just a problem among Christians. Governments, and politically-minded people, do it too. We argue over whether taxes should feed the poor and to what extent, failing to put real faces behind the very people we’re arguing about. The educational system does it, too. Those at the top and those in the trenches fight over what’s best for the students, while large numbers of kids are not getting what they need.
Maybe what we need, instead of more ministries, organizations, and methods, is to simply let ourselves be drawn in when a situation arises. Where will you see someone today who is hurting, sick, naked, or hungry? Let’s make a commitment together that we will be the love that someone needs today.