One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is the one where a person, like a tree, is known by the quality of fruit they produce. This is the version from Luke:
“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.”
I appreciate the wisdom of this, especially when considering how superficially and unfairly we tend to judge each other, without regard to what kind of “fruit” is being produced.
For Jesus himself, it was commonplace to be misunderstood, and to be judged by standards not fit for God’s Kingdom. In Mark’s version of our Gospel story today, we even have Jesus’ family trying to restrain him, with the crowd saying he was crazy, leading up to the scene where Jesus is accused of being possessed by Satan.
However, as Jesus points out, the fruit he’s producing, namely love, compassion, forgiveness, and healing, could only come from a tree living according to God’s will. And that seems to me a fair way to discern the nature of our own fruit and the fruits of others.
Unfortunately, just like the people in the story who thought Jesus was crazy or possessed, we humans are virtually programmed to focus on superficial aspects of a person and make quick and broad generalizations about them, placing them in neat categories as a way of either saving some mental or emotional energy, or a way of deciding whether a person belongs to our tribe or not. Such quick judgements have evolutionary value to be sure, but if we’re committed to following the way of Jesus, we must aspire to something better.
Now, we might be tempted to think we’re immune to making this mistake, but that severely underestimates just how clever and subtle are egos can be. We can paint a mental picture of someone using just a few choice adjectives, and then create whole narratives about the person’s beliefs, personality, and values — a story that exists only in our heads. We do this all the time, and wind up projecting our own value system, experiences, and biases, unto other people. And sadly, this winds up obscuring the Divine and Beautiful Mystery they truly are.
So perhaps a helpful intention this Lent would be to surrender enough of our egoic defensiveness to see the world a little more the way God sees it.
Instead of quickly summarizing a person by our mental image of them, let’s take just a moment to drop our judgments and hold them in God’s Love.
Instead of entertaining ourselves with ongoing narratives about a person in our heads, let’s drop the stories and focus on the real human being in front of us.
Instead of judging people for ultimately superficial aspects of who they are, let’s look a little deeper and see who they are in Christ.
Instead of regarding them with suspicion because they’re not like us, because there’s something about them we don’t understand, we can simply ask: is the person’s heart bearing the fruits of love, compassion, forgiveness, and healing?
And if it seems like the answer to that question is “no,” then that person is very likely suffering, the only Christian response being to wonder “how may I be of service to them in encouraging Christ’s Light and Love to flourish in their hearts?”
Admittedly, this isn’t easy, but if it helps, remember that this is only the way you would want to be seen by others, not as a very simple set of ideas about who you are, suitable only for harsh judgements, but a person held in God’s Love such that the scale of judgment no longer functions, a human being who is the beautiful, precious, and mysterious image of God you are. So perhaps, today, we can add a helpful corollary to the golden rule: see others as you yourself would want to be seen.
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