In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells His disciples that the tree is known by its fruit. The Sermon on the Mount in which this text is found emphasizes the importance of doing good works, even toward the enemy. Programmatic to the Sermon is the text: “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 16 ESV) These works of the disciple serve as a witness to the light who is Jesus Christ. Christ commands certain actions among them being: do not retaliate against violence with counter-violence; love your enemy; and “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (ESV)
Christ condemns lip service when he says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21 ESV) Jesus condemns the religious leaders of the time when He says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23: 2-3 ESV) Moses’ seat was a chair of honor and authority for interpreters of the Law.
Healthy trees bear good fruit, says the Lord. No diseased tree can do this. The disciple is true from inside all the way out, from internal condition to good works.
Now this condition of a healthy tree bearing good fruit is not a human achievement but comes as a result of divine action in the forgiveness of sins. The disciple is the one Jesus saves for good works. From the inside out the disciple conforms to the will of God. When the follower fails, he repents and is forgiven. Christ’s final words to the disciples indicates this thought. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20 ESV) In Baptism forgiveness of sins is granted to the person who will then follow Jesus’ commands. The dynamic of repentance continues throughout life and is granted, for example, in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 27 ESV)
The disciple expresses in life the unity of internal condition and outward behavior in conformity to the Lord’s commands, and the unity of word and action in all that he does.
Witness involves doing the will of God. It requires a unity of words and deeds. It comes from the heart to public awareness for the conversion of those who do not believe.
Michael G. Tavella
December 10, 2019