"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its fruit." -- Luke 6:43
This passage puzzles me. As an analogy for people, it is too black and white. I don't know anyone who is totally good, always bearing good fruit, or anyone who is totally bad, always bearing bad fruit. Everyone I know personally is mostly good, each one creating a lot of good things around them, and only occasionally doing something not so good, creating problems. I include myself in this set.
However, as I continued thinking about this passage, I remembered our house in Albuquerque, the first house my husband and I owned. It had lots of mature fruit trees in the backyard: two apple trees, a peach tree, a plum tree, and a pear tree. But only the peach tree produced good fruit. Back then, I was too busy going to school to wonder why, or to do anything about it, except enjoy the pretty blossoms in the spring, savor the peaches, and grumble about the mess of the abundant fruitfall. But now, I began to wonder why the other trees didn't produce good fruit. So I did some research.
To produce good fruit, trees need to be healthy (not weak or diseased), be planted in a suitable environment (the right climate, mostly), and be properly cared for (which is, oddly-enough, called "cultural practices"). Cultural practices consist of planting young trees in full sunlight; giving them adequate space to develop their roots; planting them in well-drained fertile soil; understanding their fruiting habits; and pruning them when young (but not excessively). And finally, fruit trees need adequate pollination. According to the website I found, "One unfavorable condition may reduce yields
or prevent the bearing of any fruit."
(http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/fruittreesfail.html). As an analogy for people, I again had much food for thought.
We all know how important our health is to our happiness and to our ability to work. We even prefer certain environments over others: some people love the hot, dry summers of Tucson, I prefer something cooler and rainier -- the snow we had a couple weeks ago felt wonderful. Weather conditions are known to effect our happiness and therefore our lives. Reflecting on the cultural practices recommended for raising fruit trees, I first thought about children. Kids need our full-on, unconditional, love; the freedom to explore, with room for growing independence; good food for their bodies, and a good education for their minds. We also need to keep in our minds their unique personalities, and apply appropriate discipline (though nothing too harsh) when they get too wild. All of these are good cultural practices for every parent, or anyone who cares for children. They are also good cultural practices for us as adults. We too need unconditional love, freedom to explore and make choices, healthy food to eat, and something new to learn everyday, if possible. We also need to honor our unique gifts, and be disciplined, at times.
However, if one of these conditions is not met in our lives, unlike in the lives of fruit trees, we don't necessarily fail to produce good fruit. Unlike fruit trees, people are born with an indomitable spirit to survive. Sure, sometimes people don't survive "unfavorable conditions." Sometimes, people are sunk by the conditions of their lives. But plenty of other people are not sunk. We all know people who are physically or mentally handicapped, or chronically ill, or have a life-long disease; or who live in harsh, restricted environments; or who have experienced neglect and even abuse. And yet these same people, both children and adults, overcome all of these unfavorable conditions and produce amazingly wonderful fruit.
I learned of one profound example of this yesterday. Our high school youth group watched the movie "Inocente." This short documentary, which recently won an Academy Award, is about a young girl who was severely abused by her father as a very young child, is an undocumented immigrant (along with her mother and brothers) and so must live secretively and avoid the authorities. She and her family are homeless, having lived for at most three months in one place in the past nine years, and she is still sometimes abused by her mother. And yet, despite all of these unfavorable conditions, she has an undaunted, unconquerable spirit. And from within the deepest part of her comes beautiful art. Instead of painting dark images of her dark life, she paints colorful, happy, quirky, poignant images.
What makes the difference? Why do some people sink, and some people swim, in the face of such harsh living conditions?
The answer is: one other person. It just takes one other person in someone's life who helps them in ways that no one else does. For Inocente, it was the people of A.R.T.S. A Reason To Survive is a non-profit organization in San Diego that gives children, especially suffering children, a place to heal and enrich their lives through art. It was here that Inocente met people who understood her, and fed her unquenchable spirit.
And that gets us back to the one remaining condition that makes a difference in whether a tree produces good fruit or not: adequate pollination. Most fruit trees are "self-unfruitful." That is they require pollen from another variety of their species in order to produce fruit. And for all fruit trees, a pollinator will increase the yield and quality of the fruit. Experts recommend planting at least two different varieties nearby each other. Perhaps this is why the fruit trees in our backyard in Albuquerque did not produce good fruit: there was only one of each variety. Why did the peach tree turn out differently? My guess is that a neighbor had a different kind of peach tree.
What is true of fruit trees in this case, is especially true of people. We need other varieties of people around us to help us thrive. The one thing that makes a difference in whether an abused child will grow up to be abusive or commit a violent crime is whether or not there was one person in his or her life who provided a counterpoint, one person to change the way they saw the world around them, one person to love them unconditionally.
This is true for everyone. We are not meant to be alone, isolated from other people. Along the same lines, we are better off if we surround ourselves with as much variety as possible. We are just as much in danger of becoming stunted by only living amongst people who think exactly like we do, as we are in living completely by ourselves. We need people who think differently than we do. We need to not only be challenged by that diversity but we need to value it and be valued because of it. Only then can we produce the best quality and greatest quantity of good fruit.
I believe God brings people like this into our lives, to help us grow: people who love us and comfort us when we need it, and people who think differently or challenge us when we need it. We can either accept them, to our benefit, or reject them, to our detriment. We have been given that freedom.
"A man had a fig tree planted
in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So
he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" -- Luke 13:6-9
Dear God, thank you so much for keeping my eyes open to the many lessons you have to teach me. I am profoundly grateful to have such a loving guide. Love always, Pam