“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
It’s easy to get caught up in appearances or externals. We certainly do so in relation to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the homes we live in and the companies we work for. We often get caught up in the symbols of our success, our salaries and bank accounts, the schools we have graduated from or sent our kids to, our favorite restaurants or where we go for vacations. We can sometimes do so in relation to matters of the heart and our behaviors: the quality of our families, the care we provide children or parents, the marriage anniversaries we celebrate, our long lasting friendships or our progeny. We can even do so with our spirituality, the prayers we pray, the service we render, our commitments and faithfulness, our contributions or history.
It’s not just about our own pride or thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. It’s not simply that we get caught up in how we appear to others or our own insecurities, but that we often turn that lens on others and how we judge them. Certainly, we can recognize that this form of judging on appearances tends toward the shallow and, occasionally, the salacious. We fail to see the person, the deep humanity and dignity at the heart of every woman and man. We have all had the experience, as well, of judging the good of a person based on appearances, only to be deeply disappointed by a hidden life or betrayed by secret actions. Even the apparent goodness of a person’s actions can be a facade that conceals a life of turmoil, selfishness, sinfulness, or evil. The bad can hide the good and the good can hide the bad.
And, yet, we hear today that a tree is known by it’s fruits. There seems to be an integrity between what is inside and what is outside. “...from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus says. So what about when it’s not congruous? What about when the bad hides the good or the good hides the bad? Of course, this is too simplistic because the wheat and the weeds grow within each of our hearts, but the real key here is not to view these as a tool for judging others. Jesus tells us this himself when he says, just a few verses earlier, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” Do we use these verses as a tool to see the reality of our own lives, internal and external?
Am I living a life of integrity? Do my appearances reflect the reality of my heart? What might need to change, either in the story I tell the world or the real condition of love within? Can I be a tree that bears good fruit because the branches, trunk, and roots are healthy and holy? Can I prune the areas that are fruitless and let my words and actions align more clearly with the goodness of God within? Can I be honest about my struggles and challenges so that others can see the real me and help to bind up my wounds or carry my burden? Am I producing evil from evil or good from good? Is my life authentic? Can we get past appearances to the truth? It will set us free. He will set us free.