Group reflection: Good fruit needs a good gardener

Today marked our final summer service here in the garden on Peek Wurrung country. Together we reflected on Isaiah 55 and good and bad fruit. While we sang, prayed and pondered, common swallowtails fluttered around the buddleia, billy buttons and sunflowers nodded their heads, dianella berries glowed a rich purple, and a large flock of corellas flew overhead. Then the wind turned. As the air was filled with a fresh salt breeze and the rumble of distant thunder, the poas shivered; and we people all unfurled.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Jesus says: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)

What do we notice? What do these texts remind us of in the world, Bible, church or ourselves? What word does the text speak today?

  • One person heard it as a metaphor about essential being: thorn bushes don’t produce juicy figs. Another heard it as a metaphor on agriculture: a fig tree choked by thorns doesn’t produce. We were reminded of the story of the gardener who, when the owner told them to chop down an unproductive fruit tree, suggested leaving it for one more year, and in the meantime the gardener would loosen the soil and dig in compost and manure; “for perhaps it will produce good fruit.” (Luke 13:8-9). (Psst! A market gardener has reflected on this passage for Lent; it will appear here on 21 March!)
  • This raised the question of growing conditions. Sometimes a fruit tree needs a bit of TLC to produce; other times, it’s just the wrong tree in the wrong place. What are good growing conditions for every one of us? How can we give people the best chance? What about people who never had a chance, and whose growing conditions have stunted them from birth? 
  • We wondered, Who is the patient gardener, anyway? We remembered the story after Jesus’ resurrection, when he was mistaken for a gardener; and that pointed us back to Genesis, when God walked the garden in the cool of the evening. We find these stories suggestive.
  • Someone remembered prophecies from Micah / Isaiah: images of peaceful and productive gardens that aren’t at risk of being razed and salted by invading armies; images of weapons of war being beaten into agricultural implements (swords into ploughshares; spears into pruning hooks). They wondered if people who have the opportunity to work the earth are as prone to engage in violence? (Blunt answer: Yes. A brief look at history will tell us this, including our own recent history. Invading pastoralists slaughtered the local people, destroyed fields of murnong and other crops, dug over the soil, planted European vegetables, and preached Isaiah, over which actions we grieve yet from which we have benefited immeasurably.)
  • We wondered what builds up good treasure in our heart. Someone remembered the parable of the bad wolf and the good wolf: we have both inside us, and the wolf we feed is the wolf which grows.
  • Someone else remembered last week’s passage, in which Jesus comments that the measure you get will be the measure you get. Hate generates hate; love generates love; God’s love never runs out. A life grounded in God’s love will be pouring out love into the world.
  • Someone else recalled the Dylan song about who you serve. Our treasure is built up wherever we invest our time, money, attention, energy, whatever we give our minds to.
  • Someone noted the importance of investing without attachment to a final outcome. We invest in our children, yet must expect they will go in directions we never imagined. God takes us on surprising paths.
  • Someone observed how the idea of good fruit led to a significant change in how they approach theology, e.g. regarding human sexuality. If a good and earnest belief causes damage, rejection, self-harm and worse, then the fruit we see tells us that the belief must be re-examined, even if it appears to have a sound Biblical foundation.
  • Question: Given there are 613 commandments in the Bible, how do we test them and any other beliefs / standards of behaviour? Answer: The greatest commandment is this: Love God, neighbour, self … even enemy. If a law or way of life does not lead to love and human flourishing, that is, the integration of people, body mind and spirit, with the wider community and God (see last week’s reflection on love), then it must be revisited.
  • On Isaiah 55: The rains come down … this sounds different in an age of climate change. Rain now floods; sun now burns; weather is becoming extreme. What do we do with this?
  • Pastoral comment: Throughout the Hebrew Bible we find passages equating social justice with ecological balance, and injustice with ecological collapse including desertification, rivers drying up, flooding, and species loss. Bringing the two passages together, it suggests a heart full of good treasure will live justly and work towards ecological balance.
  • We asked the agricultural scientist whether a heart full of good treasure might engage in regenerative agriculture. They said that in the shorter term it is less productive (that is, it produces lower harvests), but in the longer term it requires far fewer inputs and is much more sustainable. And perhaps there are ‘productivities’ which we are not including on our balance sheets like cleaner water, habitat for wildlife, joy etc. So yes … maybe!
  • Blackberries are a huge pest here. Jesus says no figs from thorns. But from thorns we get blackberries! We pull out the seedlings we find, but we eat and savour the fruit we pick from all the escapees. Maybe God can produce a different kind of fruitfulness even from a bramble bush … mmm, blackberry jam. 

Our final word came from our produce table, where people brought surplus backyard harvests and everyone took home zucchini, chillies and/or plums. Good fruit, anyone? Yes, please! Ω

A Sanctuary conversation on Luke 6:39-49 and Isaiah 55:10-13 on 27 February 2022 © Sanctuary 2022 (Year C Proper 18). Photo by Quin Engle on Unsplash.


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