“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
We have lately been enjoying some figs from our own trees. Not being on town water, the question of water usage is always a point of contention between those who have to go and pump it from the river and the gardeners. The monk who tends these fig trees was duly told that he doesn’t need to water the fig trees, as they are established trees. He told me the other day that he had decided to water only one of the trees, to see if it made any difference. He said to me, “These figs came only from the tree I watered; the others had none.” This is in keeping with our first reading from the Book of Sirach: “The fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree; so a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of his mind. Do not praise anyone before he speaks, for this is the way people are tested.” (Sirach 27: 6-7) Thus it fills out a little what Jesus said to us in today’s Gospel. What makes the tree good or bad is the care taken in its cultivation. This is much in line with Jesus’ parable of The Barren Fig Tree that Luke recalls later in his Gospel. The land owner comes to the gardener and says, “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?” (Luke 13:7) But the gardener replies, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:8-9) So, too, with our human heart: it needs to be cultivated, if it, too, is to produce good things. So, Jesus speaks of us needing to be a disciple, that we may become good like our good Master. (Luke 6:40; 18:19)
Of course, not all disciples turn out like their teacher. In his parable of The Sower, Jesus tells us of his experience of teaching, of his ‘sowing the Word.’ (Mark 4:14ff) There are some who just will not listen. There are some who, when what is sown begins to demand something of them, let it slip and slid away till nothing is remembered that might challenge them. Then there are those who are preoccupied with the cares of the world and the desire to have more; these have no time to ‘cultivate their mind’ with other more wholesome things. Then there are those who make the teacher’s task worthwhile. They go on to thrive on what is taught them. All have sat at the feet of the same teacher, but, should you approach the first group, so closed off are they that they have no time for anyone. With the second group, they are largely supportive till you actually ask them to do something for you; then they make excuses. With the third group, they are so busy that the most you get out of them is: “I’ll be with you in a minute; I’ve just got to do this …” and, of course, they never find the time for you. It is only the last group that go on to do good things for others; these are ‘those who hear the Word and accept it.’ How we treat others, is how they will learn to respond. In a sense, everyone we encounter is our disciple, and what we do contributes to their cultivation. It is incumbent on us, then, to be the good teacher, that is, to have learnt from a good teacher ourselves that we might be like them and have a store of good things that we can impart to others.
As Christians, we are called to be disciples of Christ, to learn from him that we might be like him. Today’s Gospel comes in the midst of his Sermon on the Plain. (Luke 6:20-49) After his litany of blessings and woes, Jesus begins with: “But I say to you that hear ….” (Luke 6:27) That is, he is speaking only to those good students who accept his word and let it bear fruit in their hearts. Jesus’ Word in this sermon digs round and fertilises our souls, where is found the roots of all we do. It prunes away that in us which bears no fruit, to encourage us to be more fruitful by adopting more life-giving behaviours. All this is bound to be challenging and far from pleasant at times, but it is ultimately all for the good. (Hebrews 12:5ff) Jesus’ Word is a tough Word, a demanding Word, urging us to love of enemies, nonviolence, selfless giving, and a compassion that imitates God’s own mercy. These are the good things a good person is able to bring out of the good treasure that he has in his heart. None of them will be there if we do not let Christ’s Word take root in our heart; we need to let it prune away hatred, violence, selfishness, heartlessness and indifference, so as to cultivate the good in us. If we do not do this, ours will be a world of misery — caused by what we do to one another and born of what we have let flourish in our hearts. But should we let Christ’s Word come to life in us, we will find that people will be drawn to us and they will want to be like us and be eager to learn from us. For what we will find growing in our hearts are all those things that St Paul calls the fruits of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ (Galatians 5:22-23) I should like to be like that! How wonderful our world would be, if we were all like that. Let us, then, be more determined, especially as Lent begins, to be a good disciple whom Jesus loves (John 21:20; c.f.: 14:23): always open to hearing Christ’s Word, letting it water our hearts with his Spirit, that it might bear its fruit in us.
By Dom Steele Hartmann ocso