March 15th, 2013: The Twenty-Seventh Day of Lent
March 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
“So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
Christ begins to introduce terms of judgment into his teaching on discerning false prophets and ministers. The idea of judgment doesn’t get much press; in our current culture, the idea of making an absolute decision on the nature of good or evil, particularly in relation to people, doesn’t jive with messages of peace and tolerance. It’s much easier for us to live in an undecided, somewhat moralistic gray area. Unfortunately, when Christ and biblical prophets speak of coming judgment, we don’t find much wiggle room. John the Baptist came preaching, “Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3.10)
This is scary imagery, all the more frightening for the fact that it is aimed at the religious elite. Can you imagine such a speech directed at the “religious elite” of our time? Archbishops, patriarchs, popes, televangelists, spiritual formation experts, pastors, teachers, authors, and others who claim any position of spiritual leadership. It’s a challenging, sobering thought. It well should be.
These are people who claim to be building up the Kingdom of Heaven, yet are actually tearing it down because they do not live according to its principles. Christ begins speaking of judgment here, and this won’t be the last time we hear of it. What does one do with a dead tree, or a diseased tree? The answer is simple: cut it down, chop it up, and burn it. When Christ comes in power to bring his Kingdom to its fulfillment, he will judge those who claim allegiance to him; bad trees will be cut down and burned.
I don’t think the “burning” here is any reference to fires associated with ideas and images of hell. I think, rather, that it’s a continuation of the plant/tree/fruit imagery used in this chapter and in other places. If you are bearing bad fruit now, yet claim to be bearing good fruit, you may find that you don’t have a place in the garden when the gardener comes back. These are strong and scary words, and we will hear more of them; yet, they should drive us to repentance rather than to fear. As we’ve often said: Lent is the perfect time for that.
Lord Christ, I don’t know if I will ever get comfortable with the idea of judgment. Maybe I shouldn’t. Please challenge me and spur me on to growth that brings me closer to you and into your Kingdom, and provide me assurance of my salvation so that I know that I am yours. Amen.