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.
Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few
What does it take to reach the summit of a difficult mountain, or to reach a particular destination on a lengthy hike? What does it take to sail across a sea?Is food enough? Does simple physical strength meet the requirement?Or to cross an ocean it it enough to simply have a boat? In crossing a glacier does one run across the surface haphazardly ?NO! Ascending a mountain takes a required amount of planning, plus training, plus a thorough knowledge of the terrain and routes.The same with trekking or sailing. Food and strength might suffice for a short time but the hazards of the route would eventually lead to a persons demise. Haphazardly running across a glacier would certainly result in falling through a crevasse.Even the experienced hiker would tread slowly and fearfully.Each of these requires going through a narrow gate and following a precise path. While in difficult and adventurous situations, most participants in an outdoor adventure would take the time to prepare for their quest. The joy in the adventure is successfully accomplishing the goal, whether it be reaching a summit or sailing across a sea, or navigating a wilderness journey. How many though put the same effort or thought into a simple day? In the ordinary experiences the dangers are not always threatening in appearance, yet does that mean they do not exist?What is more dangerous, a hazard that is marked WARNING!, or a hazard that is labeled WELCOME! ENJOY! “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.”
In reading the four lines of this short teaching of Jesus, the last two lines just described are the easy part to explain; though not nearly the easiest to follow.Take for example now the first two lines. Do not give what is holy to dogs. Dogs are a common reference to enemies . For Jews of the ancient world,”dogs” might be the gentiles.Line two: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” This is a line from Holy scripture. The question implied is then , how should you treat a dog? How should you treat your enemy? “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few….”
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye”
What is more difficult, finding flaws in others or seeing your own ? Jesus in his comparison of a splinter and beam gives no reference to who he is speaking of other than disciples and brothers. He speaks of his disciples removing “splinters” from their brothers eyes, while leaving “beams” in their own: yet both groups are indeed his disciples. In reading through the gospels you get a picture of who Jesus’s disciples are and who he addresses these statements to. His disciples certainly were the Apostles. They were fishermen, tax collectors, the centurion,Martha and Mary, The paralytics, the blind, the cripples healed. The people present for the multiplication of loaves and fishes. They were the centurion. They were Jews, they were gentiles, they included the woman at the well in Samaria.If you imagine a conversation of all of Jesus’s disciples it is not difficult to imagine the arguing amongst them.You can see them gouging at each others eyes to remove the splinters.What were the splinters?If you read through the cast of characters they are easy to spot; some were Jews others were Gentiles or Samaritans.Others held undesirable jobs and some were cursed through illness. One might even say the splinters were simply the splintered society they lived in. If these varied differences were the splinters, what on earth was the wooden beam in their eyes they could not recognize? Might that have been that they really were all the same, that they are all brothers?