Cross Training - Week Three "Apples & Oranges"

This week is the Third Sunday of the Season of Lent, and  I am continuing the sermon series, "Cross Training," a study of some of the challenging teachings of Jesus.  The passage I'll be focusing on this week is very short---only three verses...

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. - Luke 6:43-45
What is Jesus trying to say here?  It seems sort of straightforward if you simply stay on the surface---which I'm not entirely content to do, as you might imagine.

First, Jesus uses language that everyone who is listening to him would understand easily.  This little nugget of awesomeness is sandwiched in between lessons on not being a hypocrite and what it takes to be an authentic follower of Jesus, so it's easy to sort of gloss over it.

These are some earthy images that Jesus is using here:  fruit, trees, figs, grapes, thorn bushes, briars...  It's the language of cultivation and storage---things that the people listening to Jesus would completely grasp considering the agrarian nature of their society.  Figs and grapes were often cultivated together and were two of the most common products grown in ancient Palestine.

These simple people would have totally understood what Jesus seemed to be saying about how the "fruit" a person produces reveals what's truly inside of them.  It was part of the teachings of their forefathers in fact, an idea found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

This teaching is, in fact, the sort of lesson that prompts each of us who hears it to ask the question, "Am I really living what I say I believe?"  Is what is on my "outside" matching what is on my "inside?"

I believe that there is a deeper teaching here, though.  Jesus had this way of taking what was universal and making it very specific---finding the simplicity on the other side of complexity, so to speak.

What I think is at stake here is a truth that needs to be embraced by anyone who wishes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus:

THE FRUIT REVEALS THE ROOT.

Let's begin with the universality of this teaching---the things that sort of make sense on the surface.

The language that Jesus uses here is, as we said, the language of produce and product.  Here is a truism, regardless what you believe about Jesus:  What you produce is at the most basic level a product of who you are.  You really can't find grapes in a briar patch or figs on a thorn bush.

Which leads us to the second universal truth in Jesus' teaching:  If you are the wrong kind of tree, you cannot produce the right kind of fruit.  Jesus uses the word "bad" to describe the sort of fruit that cannot be found on a "good" tree.  The word here is sapros which refers to something that is decayed, rotten, or inferior.  In other words, a healthy tree should not produce fruit that isn't healthy.

And that takes us to the third truism that is found in Jesus' teaching:  No matter how "healthy" you appear or make yourself appear, if what you produce is bad--that is the evidence you are not as you seem.  I've heard it said like this:  "Your actions speak louder than your words."

But when you start thinking---really thinking about what Jesus is saying here, the stuff that makes sense gives way to some stuff that doesn't make a whole lot sense at all.  Jesus was a master at offering teachings where the thing that is being discussed is not necessarily THE THING that should be discussed.

Let's think through this a moment.  Good trees produce Good fruit.  Got it.  Bad trees produce Bad fruit.  Okay. Bad fruit cannot come from Good trees.  Allrighty.  So, if the fruit is Bad---then the tree must be Bad, right?  Right.

This is essentially what Jesus asserts.  He also goes on to say that storing Bad fruit in your storehouse causes you to produce Bad stuff with the Bad fruit.

But this is not what is clear AT ALL.  How do you evaluate what is Good vs Bad fruit?  Isn't that a fairly subjective action?  Do we really want to rely on the frailty of human beings to determine what is good or bad fruit?

Sidebar.

Consider the Carambola---otherwise known as The Star Fruit.  The star fruit looks weird.  It tastes weirder.  It has the consistency of rubber and more often than not makes you pucker like you've got bagful of sour gummy worms in your mouth.

Did you know that star fruit contains oxalic acid?  Bet you didn't.
And oxalic acid has an adverse effect on people with kidney problems, illness, ailments, etc.  In fact, in some cases it has such an adverse effect that it might actually kill them.

When it comes to human beings and faith, and following Jesus---here's something that we need to consider.  The product can't be divorced from the motive... And the presence of fruit does not guarantee the presence of faith.

You see, in the end it comes to down to motive, doesn't it?  That's what Jesus was trying to teach.  If you want to figure out what is bad vs good fruit, he teaches, you look at the motive---the root so to speak.  If the motive is not pure, if the root is not good, then the product might look appetizing, but it can turn out to taste pretty awful, and might even be fatal in certain circumstances...

even to the person producing it.

Here's something we all need to hear and heed...  No matter what story you tell about yourself, it is what you do that tells the story of who you are... and you are being watched.  Your friends, co-workers, family, children, grandchildren, students... they are all watching you.  What is your life speaking that might be drowning out what you are trying to say?

When I was serving as a youth director many years ago, I was part of a group of youth ministers and leaders who organized a city-wide "See You At The Pole" event in Tallahassee.  See You At The Pole is a student-led prayer event that takes place each year---where students gather at the flagpole outside their school building to pray early in the morning before school starts.

On the day of the event  I found myself up early and armed with a video camera outside a small circle of students who were kneeling on the ground and praying outside of their high school.  There were roughly seven other youth ministers there taking pictures, laughing and talking to one another while the students prayed.

I remember shooting video and seeing the face of a girl in the group who was staring at me.  I shut off the camera and stared back for a moment.  She had a look on her face that I will never forget.  It was an accusing face.  She knew we were using her to make ourselves look good to our church leaders.  She knew that we would all return with our video and pictures and show the elders and pastors of our church what a great job we were doing as youth ministers.  The fruit that I served her at that moment was bitter.

Who knows?  It might have been fatal to her young spirit.  And I not only gave it to her, I grew it, cultivated and stored it.


Discipleship requires not just good deeds, it requires integrity and the purity of heart we see in Jesus.  

In order to bear good fruit there must be a change in a person's nature.  Reform is not enough.  Rebirth is essential.  And it's something that you and I must do every single day of our lives.  

The fruit reveals the root.  

What are you growing... what are you producing... what are you cultivating and storing?  If the root of what you are producing is not what it should be--it will show.  


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