Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

This week’s passages dip into that timeless good fruit/bad fruit metaphor. From the Jeremiah passage, we are reminded that to trust in God means to send roots deeper, to nourishment that makes better fruit. There are certainly allegorical parallels here to the passage in Matthew 7:24-27, where Jesus tells the story of the wise and foolish builders. Psalm 1 also uses the imagery of a tree, where one prospers and bears fruit when trusting in God’s holy teachings. Both Jeremiah and the Psalmist allude in no uncertain terms to what happens to those who follow “mortals” or human teaching – it is death. For Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, he implores his audience to not trust words that are not true, words that don’t yield what is good. Some have been saying that Christ has not been raised; yet, regardless of human capacity to understand, Christ was raised by God. The onus of proof, or of the possibility to produce “good fruit” is not on humans, but on God’s action and teaching.

In our context, whether one is a good or bad fruit is often tied into cultural preferences, stereotypes, access, and privilege. We have created a sort of “respectability” theology, where those who “work the hardest” and “trust God the most” are obviously the most faithful ones, the ones God has chosen to bless. Yet, what of our learned racism? What of our learned sexism? How much harder it is for a black man to be seen as “good fruit” in our context!

Luke, then, fully ushers us into a suspicious reading of the other texts and begins to address our respectability theology. The ones who are respectable and find blessing are those who have been denied it. The good fruit is grown in places that surprise most of us. Jesus, in Luke, reminds us to be wary of applying our image of a “good fruit” to God’s.

The collective call of these passages is to root deeply in God’s trust, acknowledging that God has the final word on what “good fruit” is, and to stand in solidarity with those who both seek to trust in God and face systemic, cultural prejudices that automatically characterize them as “bad fruit.”

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