Bearing great fruit a responsibility of discipleship
Do you know what a tap root is? Picture the root of a plant. Now picture a carrot. A taproot is the most dominant root in a plant, thick near the surface but then tapering off, like a carrot, as it pushes down into the rich earth and stimulates growth. The plant draws its strength, its sustenance from it. Other roots are born from it. Stems and flowers push their way upward and outward from a healthy root system.
Or, as the Merriam Webster dictionary defines it: a taproot is a central element in a line of growth or development.
Things that grow in the earth come to mind when I consider this week’s Gospel reading about the vine and the branches. (Jn 15:1-8)
“I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.”
Several years ago, I planted three Knock-Out rose bushes along my walk-way. I choose the spot carefully. There’s good air circulation around the plants, yet they are sheltered from harsh elements with just the right amount of sun. Two summers ago, despite all my pleading, coaxing and tender care, the plants up and died.
Always one to give one last chance, I cut them back in the fall and left them to think about their fate over the winter. One sent up new, green growth the next spring. The other two remained dead as a doornail. Putting on protective gloves, I tried yanking them up. To my surprise, they came out of the ground quite easily.
The roots were pitifully shallow; there wasn’t a strong taproot to be found in either. While I didn’t burn the useless plants, they were unceremoniously dumped in the garbage.
The allegory here is not too difficult to grasp. Jesus is our taproot, our vine. We are the branches; all that we are comes out of the taproot. As a healthy part of the plant, we are all called to do our part – to be fruitful and multiply.
Yet, if we listen to this Gospel, it almost seems like a no-win situation.
If we allow ourselves, our interior life, to wither and die…if we just lay there and do nothing, we can expect to be tossed on the proverbial trash heap. However, if we work hard and bear the great fruit expected of us, what comes next? Pruning! Yikes!
Obviously, none of us want to wither and die, but that is exactly what any good gardener will tell you what happens when plants are left unattended. With no food, no water, no sun, there’s no hope, no growth.
It’s not hard to grasp. Without a strong connection to Jesus, we experience no growth in our faith, our spiritual life.
Jesus desperately wants us to take what he offers and in turn, bear great fruit in our lives. We carry a responsibility in this that needs to be taken quite seriously. Pruning is usually necessary at some point but it’s nothing to fear because again, as those who love to work in the dirt will tell you, pruning – a cutting away of that which is useless – encourage new life and greater growth resulting in the bearing of even more fruit.
“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me, you can do nothing.”
Jesus is our taproot, our mainstay. Without him, we can do nothing, be nothing. From there it’s up to us to make sure we become the bearers of much good fruit.
That’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ.