|Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, Buffalo NY|
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut downand thrown into the fire. Mt 7:17-19
For as long as I remember hearing this passage, I think I have thought of it as applying to me and the life I lead. Clearly I want to be a "good tree" that bears good fruit rather than a "rotten tree" that bears bad fruit. I desire to be "good" and not "rotten." Who wouldn't?
But there is a trap here of which I was unaware until I read a reflection on this passage by a fairly recent graduate of Notre Dame University on its excellent prayer web site. Click here to visit the site and then bookmark. The trap is the familiar either/or thinking with its bias for perfection. Either I am a good tree or a rotten one. This leaves little room for the reality of human life which is a mixed bag, to be sure.
It is the same impossible situation of which St. Paul warns us when he says that the Law cannot save us. In fact, the Law brings death not life. The Law must always focus on right or wrong, compliance or non-compliance. There little room for the doubt or confusion that arises with real situations. And the rules multiply to cover all foreseen eventualities. In modern times, it is why the NCAA rule book runs to more than 500 pages with more being added each year. And still there are violations; sometimes intentional and sometimes not.
This incapacity to deal with ambiguity and ignorance results in the need to make absolute and summary judgments, not just about acts but also about people. There are good people and bad people just as the passage suggests there are good trees and rotten trees.
A seemingly slight change in perspective can make a tremendous difference. What if I change my focus to the entire orchard rather than individual trees? What if I think of myself as an orchard with both good tress and rotten trees? Then wouldn't I focus on cultivating those aspects of my self which tend toward the good and try to lessen the growth of those that do not? Wouldn't I have a more balanced view of my self? I wouldn't have to be perfect but I would try to be better each day.
I find this to be a more wholesome way of thinking about this saying of Jesus. What about you?