In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a story about a sower who freely casts seed on the ground, some of which never takes root. Other seed lands on rocky ground but grows only a little before dying. Still other seed grows a great deal before weeds choke it. Lastly, some seed produces a bountiful harvest, thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold (Matthew 13:1-23).
The parable of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew also addresses the theme of growth and fruitfulness, but from a different perspective. A master goes away on a long journey, entrusting different portions of his fortune to three servants until his return. Two of the three invest the money and double it. The third buries his treasure and reaps no profit for his master. When the master returns, he praises the first two servants for their faithfulness. He condemns the third for wasting the opportunity before him (Matthew 25:14-30).
So what is the fruit in the first parable? What are these talents in the second? There seem to be two common candidates we could explore for these. The first is that of personal holiness, and the second is the making of new converts to the faith. Which would you say you prefer? Christians have faced this question throughout history. What is more important? Should I focus more on personal godliness, or should I focus more on leading others to Jesus? Should I primarily concern myself with the Great Commandment, to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37)? Or should I primarily concern myself with the Great Commission, to “make disciples of all nations” (28:19)?
Different Sides of the Same Coin. As with so many aspects of Christian life, the truth rests not in an either-or proposition but in a both-and. Far from being mutually exclusive, these two demands are mutually dependent on each other. If we are going to grow in holiness, does that not require that we do all God has commanded us to do, including sharing the gospel? Likewise, if we strive to share the gospel through our words but not through our example, are we not doing more harm than good?
Many of us probably do this at different stages of our own faith journey. That’s okay. We have a tremendously patient and generous God who understands our weaknesses and grants us many opportunities to keep growing. Holiness and evangelization are different sides of the same coin. The more we grow in one, the more we also grow in the other.
For My Spirit Lives in You . . . In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his apostles that what they have seen him do, they also shall do, and greater works still (14:12). This is a daunting promise, but Jesus goes on to tell them that it will be possible through the Holy Spirit, who will be with them always. In effect, the Holy Spirit will “activate” them for mission. He does the same for us as well.
If you have been baptized, then the Holy Spirit is dwelling within you. The more you pray and open yourself up to the Spirit, the more he will bear the fruit of holiness in you. He is gentle and will not push you, but he will bring you along if you let him, both helping you grow in holiness through the fruits of the Spirit and leading you to bring the gospel to others.
In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul describes nine specific fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (5:22-23, RSVCE). I’ve always thought it interesting that these are not referred to as gifts but as fruit. The Acts of the Apostles offers quite a few examples of the gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, healing, miracles, and discernment of spirits. These enable the disciples to testify to God’s presence. The fruits of the Spirit, on the other hand, do not immediately pop up in a disciple’s life—they grow over time, slowly yielding their harvest.
When I was younger, I worked at an organic apple orchard. Depending on the variety of apple, it could easily take a decade for a seed to grow into a mature tree capable of bearing fruit. I also learned that taking care of the fruit itself is not the most important task. The most important task is taking care of the tree. A healthy tree will naturally bear good fruit. An unhealthy tree will not. If a tree starts to bear unhealthy fruit, no amount of cleaning, polishing, or treating the bad fruit will make it into good fruit. At best, you might be able to salvage a little of the bad fruit to use in pies. Good fruit is the natural consequence of a good tree.
Similarly, we will never develop the spiritual fruit of joy, for example, by trying really hard or by thinking joyful thoughts. The fruits are the supernatural consequence of a growing relationship with Christ and his Spirit.
Hunger for the Fruits of the Spirit. It is important that we keep this in mind if we want the fruits of the Spirit to play an important role in evangelization. As we grow in the fruits of the Spirit, we pray that we might know how we can use them to better serve those who are far from God.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself which of the fruits listed above are most lacking in your life. Ultimately, they are all interconnected, so it is hard to grow in one of them without also growing in the others, but it still helps to hunger for one or more in particular. Foster that longing. Crave that fruit! The more we crave it and pray for it, the more God will satisfy us.
But wait. It gets better. When we develop a longing for the fruits and begin to grow in them, people will take notice. Are you generally short on patience? As you begin to bear that fruit, those who know you will say to themselves, “How is that!?” They will wonder how they too can change!
So think about the fruit of the Spirit in your own life. Which of them can you develop this Easter season? How can this fruit make you a more compelling reflection of God’s love? With the Holy Spirit’s help, you really can make a difference.
This article was excerpted from Living the Fruit of the Spirit: How God’s Grace Can Transform Your World, by Joshua M. Danis, National Director of Alpha in a Catholic Context in the US. This book (softcover, 138 pages) is available from The Word Among Us Press at wau.org/livingthefruit.