Success and fruitfulness are two terms often used to show our achievements. However, they are not always the same. Success concerns what we achieve for ourselves, while fruitfulness concerns what we achieve for others. Indeed, others can eat our fruits but cannot eat our successes.
Although these two terms are different, they are also closely related because one’s success can bear fruit, which leads to the success of others. Nevertheless, the transition from success to fruitfulness requires a deliberate choice. Understanding the difference between success and fruitfulness is essential in evangelisation for two reasons—fruitfulness in the mission and our happiness.
How? When we pursue success in the ministry, we base our criteria of success on academic degrees, wealth, offices we occupy, social status, and recognition. When these do not come, we are disappointed and fall into crisis; sometimes we blame an imaginary enemy.
If we achieve them, we brandish them to nauseating levels and expect everyone to worship us; making it difficult to work effectively with others for the salvation of souls. We brag about how we are no longer financially dependent on the laity, forgetting that they have financially contributed to our success from the first day we entered the seminary or religious life. Who even cares about our successes? The faithful only want fruits from us and nothing more.
Moreover, as we grow older, our intelligence diminishes, our health deteriorates, our beauty fades and people move on to the next beautiful attraction. We leave the office we occupy and lose our social recognition.
At that time, without children and grandchildren to stick around us, our siblings and friends being preoccupied with their family worries; our nephews, nieces, and cousins focusing on their biological parents; we realise that success in the ministry is temporal. It is only our fruitfulness that lasts till death. Yes, till death, we keep on praying for people, blessing, and administering sacraments.
Therefore, Jesus calls us to be fruitful and not successful. He said to his disciples:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).
Jesus is not interested in the number of our academic degrees or our grades at graduation; he is not interested in our wealth or talents, or awards, but in how our knowledge, wealth, and talents bear fruit in the lives of others. Of course, Jesus is not happy when we do not bear fruit. The gospels affirm this.
When Jesus saw a fig tree, he went to it to find something and eat. On getting there, he found nothing on it but leaves only. The tree was successful but not fruitful, so Jesus cursed it (Matt 21:18-19). Based on the parallel in Mark’s gospel, we may argue that it was not the season of figs (Mark 11:13-14). However, commentators argue that the tree produced leaves prematurely. Hence, Jesus expected to find some fruits.
Jesus also says: “Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more”. (John 15:2).
The three responses of Jesus when he asked Peter if he loved him were basically to “Feed my sheep”; indicating that feeding his sheep was the only way we could prove we love him (John 21:15-17). On the last day, Jesus will not judge our success but our fruitfulness in the ministry, which is manifested in the relationship with the other – the sick, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, and the stranger (Matt 25: 31-45).
Indeed, we are called to fruitful and not successful. Disobeying these wishes and command of Jesus is the highway to a latter-age crisis and, perhaps, eternal punishment. God forbid!
May the birth of Christ in a manger continue to remind us that God is not interested in our successes 🙏🏾