Botanists have long Latin names for all varieties of flora and fauna, but most of us identify plants by the fruit they produce. Apple tree, grape vine, blackberry bush. We assume that the fruit they produce reveals the plant’s identity. I’ve never heard anyone question whether the peaches bought at a roadside stand were actually grown on a peach tree. Fruit is an extension of a plant’s nature.
Jesus applies this principle from the natural world to human nature. The fruit of our lives—our behaviors, words, priorities, and choices—reveal much about our inner condition. Our visible fruit accurately expresses our nature, allowing us to realistically assess our own spiritual health.
This principle can be a powerful diagnostic tool, but I fear we use it in ways Jesus did not intend. We tend to measure the goodness of others by their behavior and measure our own goodness by our intentions. Jesus wakes us up from rationalizing our wrongdoings with the truth that the way we live is a true extension of who we are. Whenever we apply this test about fruitfulness to others, we should do so in the spirit with which Jesus directs these words to his listeners. I’ve heard this passage used to condemn others by identifying someone who has done something bad as “rotten to the core.” Instead, we ought to make our conclusions about someone an opportunity for compassion, rather than condemnation. When a person’s words and ways feel hurtful, then pain may be all that person has within them to give. We can identify this, then respond by planting seeds of love in that person’s life, praying that God will help them grow and bear the fruit of friendship and respect.
Based solely on what you and others can see, what does the fruit of your life tell you about your inner spiritual health?
God of Truth, help me assess the fruit of my own life so that I may praise you for any sweetness your grace has grown and weed out every root and stem that leads to selfishness and pain. Amen.