Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, 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 down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.”
Jesus sets up some things that look like simple comparisons on the surface, yet the more you think about this small bit of teaching the more questioning one has to do. The comparison of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is simple enough. People are not always what they seem. Judge someone not by their appearance, but by what they produce. The story continues with a little about the fruit and its plant:grapes don’t come from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles. True.Grapes grapes come from grapevines and thorn bushes don’t produce fruit. Each fruit is related to its plant.Good trees produce good fruit, bad trees produce bad fruit, some trees produce no fruit. Fruit is is the work of the plant, to an orchard owner it is what gives value to a tree. The grape vine was a historic symbol of Israel . Grapevines produce grapes, a good fruit. Wouldn’t oranges or dates, or figs, or olives also be considered good fruits? If grapes could be a symbol of Israel, couldn’t these other fruits be symbols of Israel’s neighbors? Does only one type of tree produce good fruit? Can only one nation be good and prosperous? If a nation is can produce just a little good fruit, could a little cultivation improve its yield.Finally if one should be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing, how should someone react to a sheep in wolves clothing?
In one way the story can be interpreted is beware of false prophets and be productive lest your unproductivity lead to your destruction. It contains good advice for an individual. Another interpretation can be drawn by reading the story in terms of a complex society. Each society can be valued for what it produces and be careful how you judge a society. How one views another culture can be deceiving, it can be difficult. As Jesus addressed his disciples, each person in the group might have considered themselves the good fruit from the good tree.Yet each person looking at their neighbor might have perceived something differently. A hard working, prosperous, productive, and generous Samaritan might constantly strive to be fruitful; but would a righteous first century Jew recognize this person as “the good fruit”, they were enemies after all! Perhaps the focus of the story was to get Jesus’s disciples to recognize the benefits of who they were. Perhaps Jesus wanted to guide his disciples to value of all parts of society and all societies that were good, that were fruitful. Perhaps Jesus wanted his disciples to see just how abundant Gods Kingdom was.