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Which one am I? The answer is found in the "fruit" I produce?
"A good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. Men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.
"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart beings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
"But why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?"
Luke 6:43-46 NKJV
On a running-around day this past October, Russ and I needed some exercise. So we stopped to hike the mile-long trail skirting the golf course behind a convention center on Lancaster's Route 30 East. Near the end of that pedestrian path, as we approached the curve on the west side, we saw some old apple trees. There were six of them, all bearing a generous amount of fruit. Apples galore circled the ground beneath each tree. This was not an orchard. No one prunes or sprays these trees. They just do their thing in a wild sort of way.
The trees brought back memories. We had lived not far from here in the 1980's and had visited these trees before. As we surveyed all those apples on the ground, I remembered the delightful discovery, years before, that the bounty from these trees made good apple pies.
I am one who will never pass up the chance to have a piece of good fruit. So I picked up one of those ruby gems from the ground, rubbed it on my pants leg and took a bite. Then I remembered something else. Not all these trees bore good fruit. This was a mixed group; some good, some bad. The apples on all six trees looked the same. Similar dark red color, uniform size and after a pants-leg shine, they all sparkled. The difference was on the inside. The bad ones had no flavor; absolutely nothing pleasant in their taste. They lacked everything that a good apple should be and I spit that first bite out in disgust.
I sampled all the trees because I remembered getting good apples here in the past. Shortly I found the good tree with the wonderful tasting apples, just the right tartness for a pie. One tree out of the six passed the taste test. It was the fall of the year. We both wore jackets. So we filled up, two apples per pocket, and walked off the golf course with pie on our minds.
The hotel with the golf course has changed hands since the 1980's, but back then we knew it as The Host--which is also a fitting name for this passage of scripture. A host is someone who is gracious, generous and accommodating, giving whatever they have to ensure their guests are comfortable. A good tree stands like a welcoming host, giving of itself for the benefit of others. Exactly what Jesus needed, as he walked from place to place. A dependable source of fruit, plus a canopy of shade under which to relax as well. A good tree was a gratifying sight, an oasis of refreshment for the hungry traveler.
A bad tree disappoints and we reject it outright, like we would a bad host who serves only himself and his own needs. Year after year those trees on the golf course yield their fruit. The bad trees never produce good fruit. The good tree always produces good apples, whether anyone stops by to pick them or not.
Jesus is drawing a parallel in these verses. We are like fruit trees, grape vines, bramble bushes, or thorns that prick. It's what we are at the core of our being that determines our identity. What we say and do reveals our inner nature. Out of the abundance of our hearts, come our words and deeds. If the treasure we hold inside is good, goodness will shine forth. Gentleness flows from a gentle life; love from a loving life. If we hold deceitfulness within, dishonesty will spill out all around us.
These verses are not an invitation to judge and examine each other with a critical eye. It's a simple message - Beware. Watch out. Proceed with caution. Everything is not what it appears to be on the surface. The way to recognize a good person is to take note of their fruit. Do the taste test.
Jesus ended with this question which cuts to the heart of the matter, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" Jesus asked for good fruit but instead found a selfish, contentious host. Thorns that prick. Tasteless apples. Wormy, gnarled, disgusting fruit. Bushes with only leaves and nothing else to show. Trees that look inviting but disappoint the weary traveler. And all the while they called him Lord!
When Jesus comes knocking on your door, will you serve up a bountiful harvest? Or a handful of thorns!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: If you were a food-bearing plant, which kind would you be?
Did you ever get caught in a situation without an adequate supply of food? Describe what that was like.
We don't usually eat off the land. But Jesus and his disciples depended on nature and farm crops when no one provided a meal. How would that experience affect how Jesus thought about trees with either no fruit or bad fruit? You can't gather figs from thorns, nor grapes from a bramble bush-- What does that mean in the context of what Jesus was saying?
Crops grow naturally on a tree. The tree does not seem to work at producing fruit and is generally not stressed by that task. What would this tell us about the fruit we are supposed to produce? What kind of fruit grows naturally from your life? Are there stresses which affect your productivity?
Which characteristics of fruit trees have parallels to our spiritual lives? What are some examples of good fruit? And bad fruit? Can God depend on you to bear good fruit? In what season is your soul--winter, spring, summer or fall?
The Gospel writer, John, records the image of Jesus being the vine and we the branches. As we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us, we bear much fruit (John 15:5). How do you develop this relationship of mutual abiding?
Consider the final question: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" Who is Jesus speaking to when he asks that question? Is it a fair question? Why? or Why not? Are you doing the things Jesus told you to do?
I purposely did not use Matthew's account of this passage because it's so harsh and unyielding. Matthew quoted Jesus as saying that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (Matthew 7:7:18). My life experience tells me differently. What do you think? Should Jesus allow for inconsistencies in our lives? Where does redemption fit into the picture?