I frequently declare that I love a good metaphor. Metaphors unlock meaning for me. It is how I’m wired. But this one has sometimes confused me. I expect the confusion comes in my trying to see it through the lenses of my own pre-conceived ideas of what it will mean when I read it.
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. (Matthew 7:15-20 NLT)
A product of my western culture, I start my interpretation wanting to draw up a chart that lists good fruit on one side and bad fruit on the other. Truth is, I want those fruits listed in order from best to worst, with a line drawn down the middle to delineate the good from the bad. I want a Top Ten List of good fruit.
Then, applying the list, I want to set in motion various strategy for producing more of the good fruit and for quick disposal of the bad fruit. It would be so convenient this way. And I’d not only have more control over my self, but I could more easily and quickly judge you.
But I’m pretty sure I’m not reading this right when I do that. Or at least I’m pretty sure there is more to this metaphor than my initial interpretation allows.
Within the image of Jesus/the Shepherd and Jesus’ followers/sheep, there is a warning that false prophets sometimes come into the sheep fold disguised as sheep when under all that wooly wonderfulness they are actually wolves looking for lamb lunch.
And then Jesus changes the image from sheep and wolves to good fruit, bad fruit — saying that the fruit=how they act. Somehow I want to find the connection between the false prophet warning and the fruit.
Could it be that Jesus is telling me that we are not called to tug on the wool of each sheep as it comes into the fold of the local church so we can keep the wolves out, but rather wait until fruit comes and judge then. Maybe Jesus is saying that wearing a wool coat is not the issue and therefore we should not use it as criteria. The issue is what we do whether we are wearing the coat or not.
I’ll keep pondering. I’d love to hear your thoughts. It helps to see things from someone else’s chair.