Luke 6:43-45

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

There are three ways to read this tight collection of wisdom sayings.

The first is to hear an implied threat: You can tell the tree from the fruit, so I’ll be watching to see what kind of fruit you yield…and it better be good!

The second is to hear these words as a kind of Stoically indifferent, almost laissez-faire, description people: What are you going to do? Good people do good things, bad people do bad.

The third, and perhaps most challenging, is to hear it as a promise: You will bear good fruit. Why? Because that’s what good trees do and you’re a good tree!

Why is this one hard? Because it requires you to believe in yourself. Actually, you don’t even have to quite believe in yourself. You just have to believe that someone else believes in you. But that can still be hard.

To be honest, I don’t know how to decide for sure which way to read this. The middle one sounds the least like Jesus to me. He is rarely if ever disinterested. The former is the way I hear this passage most often interpreted in popular religious culture, perhaps because too many people perceive God as primarily threatening. The third is the one that rings true to my sense of why Jesus came and what his kingdom is about.

I suppose, in the end, the way we interpret a passage like this says as much about us as it does about Jesus. So, which way do you read it? Threat, indifference, or promise? More than you might guess hangs in the balance.

Prayer: Dear God, let us hear in your words promise and encouragement that we might be strengthened to share you love with those we meet. In Jesus’ name, Amen.