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June 19, 2024
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Cultivating fruit

One of my favorite passages in the Christian scriptures comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. Perhaps surprisingly, the reason I love it so much is how not-religious it is. 

The passage sets up a contrast between disparate ways we can choose to live in community. One way is characterized by selfish motives: discord, conflict, meanness, contempt, envy, and selfish ambition. The other is dubbed, “the fruit of the spirit.” Before considering what this fruit may be, let me say three things. First, this fruit is not uniquely tied to Christianity, religion, nor irreligion. Secondly, the Greek noun “fruit” is in the singular form; that is to say, the nine traits mentioned are a package deal, not a collection of nine separate fruits from which to pick and choose. Finally, fruit is a biblical image of observable actions. When the lemon tree in my backyard receives good sunlight, rain and has strong roots, it produces beautiful and delicious Meyer lemons.

Paul writes, in contrast to the selfish ways of living, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

This is not a religious list. Even the Greek word for faithfulness is about the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, not a belief in the divine. But it certainly is a list we could use a bit more of in our world.

Two of my favorite descriptors of the fruit of the spirit are kindness and goodness. The Greek word for kindness is defined as the quality of being helpful or beneficial. It’s easy (or at least worth the hard work) to be kind to our loved ones or when the eyes of the world are on us. But the real challenge of kindness is that it’s inherently outward-focused. Who comes to mind when you think of someone who is consistently helpful or beneficial to others? Do you recognize the spirit in them?

Goodness is a word that may be misinterpreted in English. I will confess that goodness, for me, often wrongly evokes images of “not fun.” The Greek word has a different implication. Goodness is the positive moral quality characterized by an interest in the welfare of others. An oft-repeated phrase is, “I’m a good person.” That pronouncement always make me quietly think, “What do we mean by that?” I don’t necessarily disagree when folks say it, but I wonder what sort of goodness they have in mind and I am challenged to ask myself, “am I the sort of person who is characterized by interest in the welfare of others?” At times I am, and sadly, at times I am not, but I can seek to cultivate that fruit in my life.

In a world that seems to brim with discord, dissension, and division, how might we seek to be a bit fruitier, filling our orbits with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

Rev. Robby Olson is a Presbyterian pastor in Watsonville. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.

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