Wednesday of Trinity 8: Good Trees and Good Fruit

Image result for grape vine painting

Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The faithful prophet bears good fruit because he himself is a good tree.

It begins with the will of God, which is that lost little ones would be brought back into the fold through the forgiveness that Jesus won for him by dying on the cross. This is the righteousness that Jesus began fulfilling when He was baptized. The lost little ones – the spiritually impoverished – pray that God’s will be done, and hunger and thirst for this righteousness. They are filled with it.

To import St. Paul, their faith is reckoned as righteousness. To import St. John, the filling of their soul with the Holy Spirit casts their vision with the goodness of the Lord. Goodness is confessing and repenting of sin, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, praying the Lord’s will to be done, being filled with that righteousness, and bearing the fruits of that righteousness in acts of love toward our neighbor. If a Christian’s vision is filled with “the goodness of the Lord,” goodness abounds, beginning with himself.

The faithful prophet is part of this process. He’s the administrator of God’s goodness and will, passing on to the spiritually poor, hungry, and thirsty the righteousness they seek first. He does this by proclaiming forgiveness. Like Matthew and Peter – the two obvious cases of sinners, a thief and a denier of Christ, received and forgiven by Christ – the minister has been redeemed and made righteous by Christ’s death, and his own heart overflows with this goodness. His preaching reflects this inherent goodness with which he’s been dealt.

Again, the Christian sees the world as full of the goodness of the Lord, and he sees he himself as part of that goodness, and so his preaching, if he’s a preacher, reflects that. “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.” That dynamic runs through the Christian’s veins.

Which is why Eucharist. Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” If all the world flows with goodness, in our bosoms, outside our bosoms, running all over, then we have thankful hearts. How could we not? The only ones who don’t have thankful hearts are those who have nothing to be thankful for, because their vision of the world is not filled with the goodness of the Lord, but with badness.

Enter the false prophet.

Let’s begin with St. Paul. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

St. Paul refers to the then-arising Gnostic teaching that every creature of God is not good. The creation is an evil mistake by a lesser deity. Every material thing is a corrupted deception. For this reason the Gnostics did things like forbid marriage and abstain from certain foods, both things God created to be received how? With thanksgiving. Why? Because every creature of God is good. And nothing – nothing! – is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving. It is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

Even Adolf Hitler? Surely our enemies reflect the evil of the world, and surely we should love our brethren and hate our enemies! That’s at least what we’ve heard it has been said, no? No. We pray for our enemies, because they too, even Hitler, are creatures of God.

The false prophet does not begin with this premise. They look at the world as evil. They look at the world as unsaved. In a sense, the false prophet’s greatest error is denial of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished.” They see the world as in need of another savior, another Christ, themselves.

Listen to Jesus’ words about the end of the world. “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”

In the book of Revelation the four horsemen of the apocalypse are war, pestilence, famine, and false prophecy (or the antichrists). It always confused me why false prophecy or the antichrist goes hand in hand with war, pestilence, and famine, until I studied Gnosticism.

The reason is, war, pestilence, and famine seemingly prove the world is evil. If the world is evil, it still needs a savior. Christ is the savior, but evidently the world is still evil; therefore, we still need a Christ. The problem is, if Christ is “locked in” to the flesh and blood person named Jesus, there can be no new claims to “Christ.” Christ is a done deal – “It is finished.” So what do we do with the war, pestilence, and famine?

We need a new Christ! But again, Christ was locked in with the flesh and blood person named Jesus. The solution is, release “Christ” from His flesh and blood. Claim “Christ” is a cosmic archetype that anyone can access, and in fact certain elite spiritual ones do access, and become. Such is are the antichrists, and the Antichrist will be the supreme manifestation of this dynamic.

He comes claiming the world is evil. His vision is filled not with the goodness of the Lord, but with evils all around. His enemies are not creatures of God to be prayed for, for they know not what they do, but to be destroyed as the cosmic mistakes they are. Appearing good, he in fact is filled with what he projects onto the world, evil.

I can’t help but think of the fruits of our Gnostic culture. For decades now we’ve been told that Christians are the intolerant, bigoted haters, and that a culture devoid of religion will only result in peace, love, and harmony. At a philosophical level, we were told that religion builds walls and creates an “us vs. them” attitude that excludes the “other.” That’s the source of all warfare and conflict, pestilence and famine. If only we are freed from religion and carried along in a wave of heightened “woke” consciousness, the world can live as one.

Right. Because what we see in the daily news is nothing but unity and harmony. And what we see among the “woke” is nothing but tolerance and love. What came across first as peace and love ended up being a thorn. What looked like a lamb ended up as a wolf.

The false prophet is filled with evil because he doesn’t see a world redeemed in Christ, full of the goodness of the Lord, and this includes his own self. There is no hopeful repentance, or comforting Gospel. There is only demand after demand reflective of his own insufficiency.

Have you ever run into someone like that? They themselves fall short, so everything about them is a “sermon” of how insufficient you are. Their vision is not filled with the goodness of the Lord, but with a world full of insufficiencies. These people are exhausting.

When a preacher becomes that person, whoa. This can happen in a more evangelical context, where the tone of the sermon is very often, “Are you really living up to Christ’s standards? Do you really love Him? Have you really given your heart to Him?” Or it can happen in a liberal context, “Look at how evil the systems of this world are! You have to be the change!”

In both instances, Christ’s work is incomplete. A Savior is still needed. And instead of finding Christ’s completed work where it’s “locked in” at His flesh and blood, we’re encouraged to find it in something else. Or someone else. It looks good at first. But the thorny fruits follow.

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