In our gospel lesson today, Jesus once again – as is so often his custom – draws on natural imagery to illustrate spiritual truth. Here he contrasts “good trees,” those which naturally produce figs and grapes, with “bad trees,” those which naturally produce thorns and brambles. A “bad tree” cannot produce good fruit; good fruit only comes from “good trees.” Similarly, Jesus says, one whose heart is good will naturally and without effort produce good fruit, while one whose heart is evil will naturally produce evil fruit. The point seems obvious. The metaphor is clear.
But there are two things to note: First, there is a difference between trees and people: A “bad tree” cannot stop producing thorns and brambles and suddenly begin producing good fruit. Because of the type of tree it is, it is incapable of bearing fruit; it can only bear thorns and brambles. But that is not the case with people. A person with an evil heart can be transformed into one whose heart is good. That’s a key difference. Someone whose life is oriented towards evil rather than towards God can change! The gospel is all about repentance, forgiveness, conversion of life, and reconciliation. Sinners can become saints – and they do!
This was not Mary’s first choice. I mean that in two ways. Firstly, Mary is old enough to have made many choices before this. She has obviously committed to the love of her life, Joseph. And she is old enough to have made endless smaller, daily choices like we all make as we navigate our way through the day: decisions about where we go and what we do, the people with whom we communicate, and how; decisions about the work of our hands, our rest, our diet, our dress; our thoughts, our prayer. Lots of choosing this or choosing that, each and every day. When the angel Gabriel calls on Mary with an invitation, this is not her first choice, not her first time of choosing something for her life. She has plenty of experience.
And secondly, this also is not Mary’s first choice, given the impossible plan the angel Gabriel is proposing: that Mary become pregnant in an unimaginable and culturally inadmissible way, prior to being married to Joseph. That is not Mary’s first choice. I infer this because her immediate reaction is fear, and her second reaction is incredulity: “How can this be?” Then, for reasons we are not explicitly told, she ultimately says “yes” to Gabriel’s announcement.[i]