When we consider what Jesus meant when he said, “You will know a tree by its fruits”, the automatic assumption is that “fruits” are the riches one gains. But what are the riches?
From a twenty-first century perspective we may consider the fruits to be wealth and money. Some people who subscribe to the “Gospel of Wealth” may recognize God’s favor by how much money one has and this is problematic. Some assumed this in first century Palestine as they noted that God was cursing those with infirmities, thus they were treated as second-class citizens and virtual untouchables. They felt God favored the rich with grace and disfavored the poor with lack and limitation. Jesus corrects this myth.
The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind”? Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no can work”. (John 9:2-4)
This thinking by the disciples may have come from the Greek way of thinking that examines the issue of Fate and the work of the gods on Mt. Olympus in determining one’s Fate in the world. Greek dramas demonstrate how the gods played with mortals and intervened in the lives of mortals when it was convenient for the gods and served their purposes of attaining something like love, power or riches.
In considering the above statement from John’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes that there are problems each of us has to face in life. Our ability to overcome these challenges brings with it an opportunity to rise above and conquer adversity. With our ability to rise above we attain a certain understanding that enriches us. Our newfound understanding may aid us in gaining new understanding in serving others but it does not necessarily mean we will become rich in the literal sense and gain a flow of abundant capital.
The spiritual riches or spiritual “fruits” are virtues like faith, hope and love. How we spend these riches and invest in them is the real demonstration of the payoff.
Those who cultivate the fruits of virtues are the ones who see a major return.
The saints are not ones who are necessarily wealthy individuals but they have wealth beyond their wildest dreams in other ways. True, some saints’ ideas have benefitted their holy orders, but the benefits were a bi-product of the intention gleaned by the wisdom of the saint. One could say that the fruits saints bear are blessed in powerful ways.
St. Ignatius changed countless lives with his spiritual exercises and the power of discernment and hope. St. Francis has changed lives through his example of faith and the Franciscan rule. St. Teresa of Avila, a doctor of the Church, used her interior castle to inspire others to go deeper in their understanding of God and love. St. Therese’s book “The Story of a Soul” continues to change lives over a century after her death. St. Therese did not see this wealth in her lifetime. She died before the publication of her book and was not even recognized by others in her lifetime. She demonstrates throughout the book the power of the spiritual virtues to assist in growing. Pick a saint and we can see how the adversity of their lives shaped who they became. Her fruits are clearly exhibited.
The spiritual disciplines gained as result of teachings are the real seeds. They help us form the spiritual muscle required to face life and take on challenges.
Placing our faith in God helps us rise above adversity and grow in faith as we see the fruits of fearlessness manifest.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”. (John 15: 5) The Gita puts it another way. “United with Brachman, cut free from the fruit of the act, the man finds peace in the work of the spirit. Without Brachman, man is a prisoner, enslaved by action, dragged down by desire”. (Yoga of Renunciation V).
Wealth means nothing to one who is struggling with death. His primary concern is in addressing the process. A rich person will use the fruit of his knowledge to overcome the adversity. The life experience one gleans in facing fear and death are the results of the fruits of his labors in his spiritual pursuits.
The same could be said for an individual who is struggling to survive who is unemployed and fighting the demons of uncertainty. It is the fruits of faith that have been planted within the heart that helps him rise above and conquer adversity and gives him the will to move forward.
In the end, we all need to recognize the blessings of positive actions and virtuous behaviors toward others. Good fruit bears good seed that furnishes abundance for more blessing to flow.