MEDICINS SANS FRONTIERES DENOUNCE ASSAD FOR 18 DEATHS BY STARVATION IN MADAYA SYRIA
43 “For no good tree produces bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit.44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit — figs aren’t picked from thorn bushes, nor grapes from a briar patch. 45 The good person produces good things from the store of good in his heart, while the evil person produces evil things from the store of evil in his heart. For his mouth speaks what overflows from his heart.
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ but not do what I say? 47 Everyone who comes to me, hears my words and acts on them — I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like someone building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the torrent beat against that house but couldn’t shake it, because it was constructed well. 49 And whoever hears my words but doesn’t act on them is like someone who built his house on the ground without any foundation. As soon as the river struck it, it collapsed and that house became a horrendous wreck!”
Whn dealing with Jesus’ teaching in any of the Gospels, I become aware that it is, in its simplicity and directness, the best wisdom for living that human beings possess, far superior to the philosophers, and even wiser than other great teachers like Socrates, Buddha, Lao Tze, and Confucius, because of its sure grip on the more hurtful truiths about human character.
Here in this passage is one of these: wrongdoing and wrong speaking are not accidents or faults which can be easily detatched from the person who commits them. The comparison with fruit trees makes the point: good and bad fruit is the product of the tree; good and bad behaviour is the product of the person. Good flows from a store of goodness in the person, bad from a store of badness.
When I have behaved badly I don’t want to hear this; I want to interpret it as a momentary stupidity or loss of control; I don’t want Jesus telling me it must have come from some badness inside. Recently I flew into a vile and dominating temper with a member of my family. I would like to forget about it as soon as possible, excusing myself that really the victim was asking for it. But Jesus insists that I look inside and ask where it came from; and when I do so, I know I’m looking at a bit of my tree that’s been rotten since I was a sapling. I reconnect with frightening violence done to me as a child, and the shameful truth that it made me an angry man. Oh very seldom to be sure, and never more than momentary, but I know it allows me to use another person as a suitable object on which to vent my anger. Jesus is right, the wrongness comes from my heart.
But does it help to know this? Doesn’t it merely mean that I’m an unsound tree that will always produce some rotten fruit?
Jesus, a country boy from a hot land, knew more about trees than I do. He knew that if there is any water nearby trees will find it with their roots; that they will deprive themselves of leaves in order to survive a dry spell. Trees “want” to be alive and sound. Sometimes people have to move them to places where they will receive nourishment.
People are similar. They need to be, as the first Psalm has it, “like a tree that’s planted by the waterside whose leaves are always green, that give fruit in season”. I need to put myself in the places where nourishment is available, where the sweet water of God’s goodness can feed my roots and heal my heart and redirect the warped desire. I have to admit my need of being, in the words of St Paul,”rooted and grounded in love.”
That’s why Luke goes on to quote Jesus teaching about foundations. He changes the metaphor from trees to houses, but the message is the same: the fruit or the superstructure depends on roots or foundations. It’s worth remarking that Luke gets this teaching right compared with Matthew who thinks that houses can’t be built on sand. Had he not heard of the pyramids? Luke makes it clear that the issue is whether or not there are foundations. A sound house must have sound foundations. Jesus indicates that for disciples this means actually living out his teaching rather than admiring its wisdom, or exhibiting an emotional attachment to his personality. Jesus’ radical command to receive and transmit the generosity of God is the true foundation of the house of faith and the roots of the tree of life.
Being an honest disciple of Jesus is where I can be rooted and grounded in love; it is how what I build can have sure foundations.