22 August 2016

Matthew 7:15-20

“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit … Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (v. 18, 20)

Psalm: Psalm 139


This is one of a number of passages in Matthew's Gospel where the image of a tree and its fruit is used to illustrate the life of faith. Elsewhere John the Baptist, castigating the Sadducees and Pharisees, spoke of the need to cut down any tree which is not fruitful (Matthew 3:10). In today's passage, Jesus made the clear link between the state of the tree, poor or healthy, and the nature of its fruit, bad or good. For his hearers, mainly from Galilee and of an agricultural background, this would have made complete sense. They had to live with the need to make horticultural decisions! Later on, and with an audience which included hostile Pharisees, Jesus used exactly the same image (Matthew 12:33). Later again, and outside the city of Jerusalem in the days immediately before his death, Jesus cursed a fig tree for not having fruit that he might eat (Matthew 21:18-19).

Trees and fruit were significant in the economy of the society in which Jesus lived; thus they provided a valuable visual aid. The quality of fruit borne by a tree depends on the health and well-being of the tree itself, what nurtures it and the situation of its culture. There are clear parallels with the human condition.

These verses come from the final section of teachings of Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount. He had been challenging his listeners to an alternative lifestyle to that which they were living. However, he made it very clear that his role was not to do away with the teachings of the Jewish law, but rather to make it what it was intended to be - a way of life in harmony with God and neighbour. Here Jesus was saying that what matters is spiritual health and integrity: these will produce 'good fruit'. This is what distinguishes the true from the false, the genuine from the sham. This is foundational to a life of Christian faith; indeed, to any life of integrity.

To Ponder

  • Has there ever been a time when you know that you have failed to live up to what you know to be right, when the fruit has been poor, so to speak?
  • What helps you to maintain a healthy spiritual life and so bear what might be called 'good fruit'?

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.