September 11, 2021 - Figs, Grapes & Thorns - A Reflection on Luke 6:43-49

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

In the gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus warning us to beware of false prophets. “Watch out for false prophets”, he says. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-20).

In today’s gospel, Luke says the same thing can be said of us. We will be known by the fruit we bear, and one of the best indicators of good fruit are the good words we say. And this must be consistent. We can all say good things at times, but we cannot do this consistently unless our heart is right. And for the heart to be right, we must be solidly rooted in Jesus and his word. We must, as Jesus says, “remain in him and let his word remain in us” (John 15:7). We have reflected upon this several times before, so let us go beyond the obvious lessons. Jesus said, “Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.” 

What is the significance of the figs, grapes, thorns and brambles that Jesus speaks about? Without going into a botany lesson, if they are well taken care of, fig trees can produce fruit for over 100 years. Similarly, the words we say can outlast our lives if they are gracious and godly, as the words of so many people in the past have been. Another interesting fact about the fig tree is that the fruit appear before anything else, and the flowers develop inside the fruit where they can’t be seen. We don’t know what is happening inside the hearts of people, which is another reason we shouldn’t judge them, as we saw a couple of days ago.  

Grapes grow on vines, as you know, and grow in the thousands. But for them to be tasty and juicy, all the nutrients and energy need to go directly to the fruit. Consequently, all the dead wood needs to be removed. But live wood that is unnecessary must also be removed. This takes a certain ruthlessness. How much dead wood do we carry around with us—sinful habits and behavior that sap our spiritual nutrients? But how much live wood do we also carry—things that aren’t sinful, but unnecessary to our growth like all those tv shows and social media? How fruitful we would be if we eliminated this from our lives, no?

And now we come to the thorns and brambles. You may be surprised to know that thorny plants and bramble bushes also produce fruit, but it is hardly worth the effort trying to get them. Many Christians are like this: they bear fruit, but their thorny, abrasive nature makes it hard to approach them. They often poke you, drawing blood and causing pain. But let us not judge them; rather let us try to be like fig trees and grape vines, producing fruit not only in abundance but fruit that will outlive us.

Happy fruit bearing!