The Wisdom of Trees

“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”  — Jesus, in Luke 6:43-45

I’ve always had trouble identifying trees. To my untrained eye, most bark looks exactly the same. And the leaves? To me, there are two types: round and pointy.

I know that some trees offer more shade than others. Some trees are purely “ornamental.” Some trees smell really, really nice (spruce, anyone?). And some trees have rotund things growing from their branches. They may be edible. They may be poisonous. They may be sleeping hummingbirds. Who knows?

Exactly ten years ago I moved into a 2-bedroom rental house in lovely Gainesville, Texas. The pier-and-beam house was built sometime after World War II and, for 1300 square feet, seemed surprisingly spacious. But it was tiny compared to the backyard, which extended some 40 feet back, stopping just past two very large and very healthy trees. What kind? Don’t ask me! At the time they were just trees. Big trees.

As the winter turned into spring the leafless branches began budding. Bright green shoots were followed by brilliant white flowers. I had never seen trees so large turn into floral displays! Dogwood trees, yes. I once did a TV news report on dogwood trees, so I know them when I see them. But these behemoths were not dogwoods.

Another month passed, the white flowers faded, and small green orbs took their places. What is this species of tree? Could that possibly be… fruit? Is it a nut? Is it a… hummingbird? (Of course I knew it wasn’t a bird. Just checking to see if you were still awake.)

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This is the fruit produced by my backyard trees. It looks like apples, right?

The green orbs grew over time, as did my excitement. The bottoms started to resemble apples, though the tops remained round. “Was this an apple tree?”  wondered. “Oh, puh-lease let it be an apple tree! Please?” I’ve always wanted to have an apple tree. While I prefer Fuji apples, this new fruit was going to find a warm welcome in my household regardless of its vintage.

By June the fruit seemed to have reached its maximum size. I waited to see if they would turn red. Or yellow. I really still had no idea what kind of fruit I was to expect! The tops were still round but the bottoms looked exactly like apples.

So I did what any scientist would: I dissected one. Then another. Then another! The flesh was firm and there was a small core with seeds. I tasted one and it was grainy and tart.

So I did what any journalist would: I went to the most knowledgeable source: the property owner. They were pear trees. But not just ANY pear: Asian Pear. Not common to North Texas, these pears (also called Japanese Pears) look like apples and are definitely not the best raw snack food. Mystery solved! I had two HUGE pear trees in my backyard. Many pears had fallen down from the branches via squirrel, bird or breeze. Some were rotten and stinky. Others were perfectly intact.

So I did what any athlete would: I used the smaller ones for golf balls and smacked them from one side of the yard to the other. It was a wee bit messy but loads of challenging fun.

My grandparents had an orange tree out back of their house for decades. It was partially hidden by a fence but once I looked closer, the tree was easily identifiable by its fruit.

My grandparents had an orange tree out back of their house for decades. It was partially hidden by a fence but once I looked closer, the tree was easily identifiable by its fruit.

Some trees are easy to identify by their fruit. Take orange trees, for example. An orange is… an orange. There just isn’t any fruit quite like it. Grapefruits are big, tangerines are small. But when those green orbs turn bright orange, there is no doubt about the fruit.

Other trees are challenging. Like my pear trees, they seem like one type of tree but turn out to be another. I was disappointed by the identification of the fruit but still glad there was some fruit at all! I’m still waiting on my first apple tree…

The Lord Jesus famously said that you will know a tree by its fruit.

““A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit.”

As someone who has gardened off-and-on for years, I can tell you that there is a major difference between a good plant and a bad one. A good plant grows tall and flowers when it is supposed to bloom. It produces fruit of some size that is of benefit to bird, beast or human. Bad plants (and I have had a LOT of them!) only disappoint. Their seeds look exactly the same as the good seeds. You cannot tell a difference! So you plant them and let them grow. Some seeds grow. Some fail.

Will they be good or bad? Wait for the fruit.

Furthermore, Jesus taught that a fig tree will produce figs and a grapevine will produce grapes. If you walk up to a thorny vine expecting grapes or figs, you’re out of luck!

Of course, all of this was to teach that if someone wanted to truly follow Jesus in His mission on earth (and follow him in His mission through the Church), they needed to bear fruit that reflected their tree (life of being a disciple of Jesus).

“Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?” Jesus asked those gathered around Him (Luke 6:46; see also James 1:22-25).

“A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

Do you want to know if someone is following Jesus? Look for the fruit. One who has humbled themselves, taken up their cross, and followed Jesus will bear good fruit in this world — good deeds, good words, good attitudes, and good growth. If someone has accepted the Holy Spirit’s desire to work in their heart, and walked with Him, out of that renewed heart will come good — nay, great — things.

Sadly, some have believed in Jesus but never actually become His disciple (see John 8:30-32). They are, as Paul calls them in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, “carnal,” because they resist heart change in order to keep living in the ways of the world. They stifle the work of the Spirit. As a result, from their hearts comes rotten fruit. Of course, those who have not believed in Jesus will bear bad fruit from a heart that is inherently soiled and calloused in sin.

As I studied the words of Jesus today I looked around at my own life to ask, “What kind of fruit am I bearing? Is it sour or sweet? Is it poisonous or profitable?” Sometimes my words can be poison and my attitudes sour. Too often I reflect the poor attitudes of others and find myself off-track from following Jesus. Thankfully, something — or someone — usually points this out to me and I repent and return to the way of the disciple. But my fruit is not always ripe! Gives me something to work on for the rest of my days, right?

What kind of fruit are you bearing? Does your fruit reflect your heart and, if so, what does it say about your heart? Jesus said that people will know a tree by its fruit. When people look at your life — your words, your attitudes, your relationships with those you know well, your relationships with those you just met, your demeanor towards God — are they seeing that you are a follower of Jesus?

Be God’s!

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