“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.
“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” Luke 6:43-49 NLT
We all want to be good trees that produce good fruit. We all want to be known for the good things we do, coming from “the treasury of a good heart.” But I must say that when I look at the real me I wonder if I am more like the brambles and thorn bushes.
The bit that strikes me is when Jesus says, “you don’t do what I say.” I feel he is talking to me. I look at the list of challenges in his sermon and come up wanting. Do I do any of those things, I wonder? Sometimes, maybe, but often not.
Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Turn the other cheek. Give away your clothes. Give to those who ask. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. Be compassionate, like your Father. Do not judge. Forgive. Be generous. Be teachable. Be self critical. Know yourself. Fix yourself.
If I avoid honest introspection I think, yes, that is me, at least sometimes. But if I am brutally honest, I realise that these ideals are not a description of me. Gradually it dawns on me that I am really more like one of the people Jesus addresses when he says: “why do you keep calling me Lord, Lord, when you don’t do what I say?”
And that is scary. Because I have always thought of myself as being the wise man who built his house on the rock, but if I am honest I am probably the other guy, the foolish one, the man whose house was built on the sand. Because the rock on which we build our house is not Jesus, as I have sometimes thought, but our willingness to follow Jesus’s instructions. Do them, Jesus says, and your house will be secure. Ignore them and your house will fall (“collapse into a heap of ruins”).
But how can we live that kind of life? Jesus’ standards are so “unnatural.” It is simply not normal to love your enemies, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who persecute you. To give without expecting anything in repayment. To refrain from judgement, to forgive people who hurt us. Normal human behaviour is quite the opposite. Even the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), as simple as it sounds, is hard to follow all the time, especially when the “others” are people we don’t like!
But as “unnatural” as they are, these are the directions that Jesus gives us. He calls that sort of life “good fruit.” Good fruit, he says, comes from a “good heart.” How do we live the life? We live it out of a good heart. If we have a good heart, the rest will follow as naturally as grapes from a grapevine or figs from a fig tree!
But how do we get a good heart? If the fruit we see in our lives suggests that we are one of the ones with a “bad heart” rather than a good one, how do we change it?
Our heart is more than feelings: it is our beliefs, our attitudes, our values, our worldview. This sermon of Jesus, recorded not just in Luke’s gospel, but some of the others too, is sometimes called the “Beatitudes”. That is a strange word which is understood in different ways, but one definition I have heard for beatitudes is “beautiful attitudes”. These teachings are Jesus’ attitudes, his worldview.
A good heart is a heart that believes, values, thinks, makes its goal, the attitudes of Jesus. If we want to have a good heart, with good things flowing from it, if we want to be a good tree, producing good fruit, if we want a faith that is secure in the storm, we need to adopt the attitudes of Jesus, his worldview. We need to get to know him, understand the way he thinks, and incorporate his way of thinking into our own lives.
This is a lifelong task, and there is only one way I know of doing it: spend time with Jesus. Listen to him, watch him, copy him. Another of Jesus’s disciples, John, called it “abiding in him.” Or “remaining in him.” That is the key to bearing “good fruit.”