For a few more weeks at least, the stalls at Atwater Market in Montreal will be heaving with the kind of summer fruit I just can’t get enough of: strawberries, blueberries, peaches, ground cherries, raspberries, and so much else. In my house at this time of year, we often encounter the (happy) challenge of consuming all the fruit we buy before it’s too late. The summer fruits are tender and spoil easily. We need to eat them before they go off.
At our retreat this past weekend, one of the Bible passages we studied was from the Gospel of John, where Jesus tells his followers that they are like vines that are made to bear fruit. Then he adds a funny qualification: they are to be “fruit that will last” (15:16). When I’ve read this passage in the past, I’ve often got hung up on that phrase. Jesus, I want to say, fruit isn’t made to last. It spoils. It’s made to be consumed.
As we read the passage this weekend, I found myself hearing this passage as if Jesus was speaking to and about this college. Just like individual believers, the college is meant to be grafted onto the true vine that is Christ. When the college abides in Christ and helps people grow as disciples, then it is a place where God is glorified (15:8). Like some people, it can wither if it’s connection with Christ is not strong (15:6). The college is a place where we seek to fulfill Christ’s command to love another (15:12).
Seen in this way, the fruit of the college is the students who in this season of their lives allow themselves to be pruned, experience new growth, mature in their faith, and become people who deeply love the world God has placed them in. The “fruit that will last” is the students who go out into the world in ministry and mission in faithful, creative, sustainable, and lasting ways.
But the college can’t make its fruit last anymore than a blueberry bush can prevent its fruit from rotting. Rates of turnover and burnout among clergy are high. For many, it can be too easy to look at the challenges confronting the church and lose hope. The workload of a theological degree doesn’t always encourage sustainability either. Students over-extend themselves, burn out, and reach points of the semester where it can be a struggle to continue.
Jesus calls us to be fruit that will last. My hope is that on this retreat and in these early days of the term, you have been thinking about the patterns of life that help you last, not only in this semester and throughout this degree but through a fruitful ministry in the years. These patterns of life will look different for each one of us and will change through the changing seasons of our lives. The fruits each of us bears will be different too. But “fruit that will last” is all rooted in the same vine.
This message was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.