Being known: fruit

Producing Good Fruit. 43 “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. 45 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.

This third expression regarding “good fruit” is also found in various places in Scripture and in a variety of contexts (Matt 7:16–20; 12:31–35; Ps 1:3; 58:12; Isa 3:10; Jer 17:10; 21:14). In Matthew in particular, this parable is related to the warning concerning false prophets. Elsewhere the metaphor of fruit is for the character of one’s deeds. Jesus is saying that what is required of a disciple is not cosmetic alteration, even removing a log from one’s eye, but a genuine goodness of heart.

Note that there is not a call for a one-kind-fits-all “fruit.” Each plant bears its own kind of fruit: vines bear grapes and certain trees, figs. Similarly, thornbushes do not bear figs, nor brambles grapes. Yet, the nature of the tree determines the quality of its fruit. James 3:12 makes the same point – “Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.

The agricultural insights are carried over into the sphere of human character, conduct and interpersonal relations. Jesus could hardly have underscored with greater perceptiveness the inescapable relation between human being and doing. For the disciples, there must be a consistency between who one is and what one does, the inner and the outer, the invisible and the visible. The former will inevitably be exposed by the latter. Discipleship, therefore, requires not just good deeds. It requires integrity and a purity of heart such as one sees in Jesus himself.

It is the integrity/purity that, in a way, transforms the person in to a storehouse of good or evil deed which emanates from the deepest core of the person – the heart. What we say is but a reflection of who we are. As the Anglican scholar John Nolan notes: “Whether one likes it or not, what one produces is finally a product of what one is.”

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