5th Sunday of Easter
I visited a former parishioner who had just retired from a coveted position in a prestigious multinational company. He was honest enough to admit to me that had been struggling in his “new life” as a retired person. “I used to be a very productive executive,” he said, I’ve made a name for myself; I gained the respect and admiration of my peers because of my achievements.” “But now that I’m retired, I’m not that important anymore. I think I’m losing my self-esteem and self-worth because I’m nobody now.”
I wish I had the courage to tell that person: “Your worth as a person does not depend on your productivity.” “You must realize how you have been manipulated into thinking that you are only important, you will only be esteemed by people, you will only be somebody in this world, if you are productive and profitable.” “You are important and precious in God’s eyes, not because you are productive and profitable, but because he loves you.” I hope and pray that I will be given another chance to tell him that.
Our society puts a high premium on productivity or being productive. A product is something we make. And when we make a lot of things we are considered to be very productive persons. Of course, implied in it is that we are ‘profitable’. There is so much pressure on us to be productive and profitable. I am not only referring to producing things that have monetary value. We must also be productive and profitable in terms of academic honors and degrees, career achievements and accomplishments, social status and privilege, social media influence, high public approval rating and popularity, political influence, power and domination, business partnerships and connections.
People work to death to gain these things – or to be productive and profitable in these ways. Somehow the suggestion is made that we are what we produce, that we are the profit we make. Our value as a person is based on or measured by how much we produce.
This pandemic has put the “productivity and profitability” of many people in a precarious level. You need not be an expert to know that. It is for this reason that there are those who feel very low, who are having self-doubts and questioning their self-worth, precisely because this pandemic and the crises it has caused are preventing them from being productive and profitable. That is why many are getting stressed, distressed, and depressed.
It is in this context that we must put the message of today’s gospel passage. The Lord Jesus tells us, “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.” Being productive is not the same as being fruitful. Again, product is something we make. While fruit is something God makes in us. Fruit is what we bear due to our relationship with the Lord.
As followers of Jesus, we must come to know that products, results, successes, achievements, accomplishments cannot be the basis of our fruitfulness. I am not suggesting that productivity is wrong or needs to be despised. On the contrary, productivity and success can greatly enhance our lives. However, when productivity is our way of overcoming self-doubt, we are extremely vulnerable to rejection and criticism and prone to inner anxiety and depression.
“I am the vine and you are the branches.” We should stop identifying ourselves with our products. Rather, we should identify ourselves with our fruits – the fruits that come from our remaining in Jesus. Come to think of it: This pandemic can be an opportunity to remain more and more in Jesus by spending more with him, by following him more closely and more faithfully.
We are to see ourselves in terms of being branches of the Vine, Jesus – branches that are capable of being fruitful precisely because of the Vine. We are to be defined by our oneness with Jesus. We are to be characterized by our deep, intimate, personal relationship with the Lord. We are to be set apart in our attachment to and dependence on God – not on anybody else, not on anything else.
Only when we are one with Jesus, only when we are connected or grafted unto Jesus, shall we bear much fruit. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”