Luke 6:43-45 (CEV)
43 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. 44 You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces. You cannot pick figs or grapes from thornbushes. 45 Good people do good things because of the good in their hearts. Bad people do bad things because of the evil in their hearts. Your words show what is in your heart.
Truth claims are tricky things. Back in the Middle Ages we assumed that we could trust someone because they were the King, or they were the Bishop, or the Lord of the Manor, or the ‘man of the house’. This authority was what was supposed to make it possible for us to believe someone and follow them.
Then came the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the dawn of the ‘modern age’. No longer was authority given to people because of their birth. Now it was earned because of their expertise. We should listen to this person because they’re a doctor, or a lawyer, or a pastor or a scientist.
In the last hundred years, however, after the horrors of World War I, even expertise has slowly eroded in terms of our trust. These days people are far more likely to listen to what their friends tell them on Facebook or Tumblr than they are to listen to scientists or scholars or professionals. Trust is given through relationship with another human being.
And perhaps there is some value to that. Jesus tells us today that you can tell whether someone is trustworthy or not based on what they do – how they live. He tells us, in fact, that this gives us a kind of x-ray vision – an ability to see inside another person’s soul.
If they are going in the wrong direction, it’s going to show. They might have a winsome smile and a firm handshake, but how is their relationship with their kids? What are they doing with their free time? How do they respond to a friend’s cry for help?
Equally, if they are going in the right direction, it’s going to show. It won’t matter how well dressed they are or whether they’ve got everything together if you give them a call in a crisis and say, “I need help”, and they show up. It won’t matter if they’re still working out the messy bits of life if they treat those less fortunate than them with dignity and compassion. It won’t matter if they don’t ‘look the part’ if their lives are filling up with or full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. With this kind of thing going on, it’s obvious that they can be trusted!
And that holds true with our friends, but it also holds true with the ‘experts’ out there, and in particular, with the ‘religious’ experts. You see, I think this is who Jesus has in mind in this parable. He’s seen the Pharisees and the Sadducees ‘lording it over’ the people, telling them what to do and what to think, and Jesus is done with it. How does that kind of behavior help anyone?
So he gives us a secret trick to help us figure out whether to listen to someone or not: look at the fruit. What does the person do? How do they live? But most importantly, what kinds of things happen when they’re around? Do good things happen? Are people closer to Shalom because they showed up? Is community more broken or more whole? Do people feel more loved, more precious because of their presence? Do people who spend time with them routinely go away feeling like they are better for the interaction? Is the world a better place because they are there?
We’re not just supposed to blindly follow leaders because they’ve got fancy titles, because they’ve published lots of books, or have a radio or T.V. show, or because they’ve got more than 12,000 Twitter followers. We’re supposed to be smart, and pay attention and decide based on the evidence we see whether this person has the fruit to demonstrate the heart of someone following Jesus. And only when (and only as long as) we see evidence of that fruit should we start following (or continue to follow) them.
- Think of the people who you regularly take advice from.
- Make a list of friends, family, media outlets, religious ‘experts’, authors, celebrities – whoever it is for you.
- Next to each person’s name, write down the ‘fruit’ that you see in their lives. Is it predominantly ‘good fruit’ or predominantly ‘bad fruit’? (We already know that no one is perfect!) For some of them you might have to do a bit of thinking.
- Now make a note to yourself: which of these people do you think you should listen to and why? Which of these people do you think you should not listen to (or not listen to as much) and why?
- How can you use this idea when evaluating what someone new has to say?