Will we bear good fruit, or bad?
By Shawn Reeves
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time/March 3
Sirach 27:4-7; Psalm 92:2-3,13-14,15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
The words “Know Yourself” were carved on the temple of Apollo in the ancient Greek city of Delphi. It was an admonition to enter the portal with an honest understanding of oneself, to recognize that among all creatures on earth, we alone have been gifted with the capacity to reflect on who we are and to know ourselves. And yet, how often do we find ourselves confused about who we are?
As Jesus illustrates in our Gospel, we are quick to find fault in others while ignoring our own faults. We are sometimes oblivious to our own blindness, attempting to guide another while impaired ourselves, leading us to both fall into a pit. It is only when we are honest with ourselves, with the “wooden beam” of our own shortcomings, that we are equipped to genuinely aid another in their own failings. “Then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye,” the Lord tells us. Service to others demands sincere humility about ourselves.
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once wrote, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,” a notion popularized today in the words, “you are what you eat.” The sentiment is that what we bring into the body is driven by what we value, and what we consume impacts what we become (both in terms of physical health and state of mind). The same is true for the soul.
“Every tree is known by its own fruit,” declares Jesus, an echo of the words from our first reading: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.” The manner in which we care for our mind and soul will bend them in that direction. What we nourish in our soul is what we will become, and the “fruit” of our speech serves as evidence of the quality of this care. “For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
The “heart,” the biblical and poetic image of the moral center of the person, has a lasting memory, continually gathering and collecting experiences, thoughts, and attitudes. And, as Jesus alludes, it either accumulates a “store of goodness” or a “store of evil.” What we deliver to it through our choices, behavior, and prayer will determine which kind of storehouse it is — one that “produces evil” or a “heart [that] produces good,” a tree that “bears rotten fruit” or one that “bears good fruit.” Whichever the case, Jesus makes clear that it is “from the fullness of the heart” that either will come.
“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” who has power to transform the heart and renew the tree of the soul. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit,” but a rotten tree can be rehabilitated through grace, “when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility.”
In Christ’s resurrection, the corruptibility of humanity finds a new dignity and destination in Christ’s glory. The rotten tree of our fallen brokenness is redeemed and reforged (in Jesus’ glorified humanity) into a good tree that bears the good fruit of incorruptibility. The resurrection of Jesus has always been for the Church a triumphant illustration that we, too, will someday share in His incorruptibility and immortality, because “when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”
The Church holds fast this expectation that in heaven Christ’s disciples will sing of Christ’s victory, “Where, O death, is your sting?” All rottenness will be stripped from them, and “they shall bear fruit even in old age.”
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.