Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Good Fruit and Expectations

"You shall know them by their fruit."

It's a pretty straightforward teaching from Jesus, laying out for us how we can tell the difference between folks who really teach and live out the Way of grace and folks who are just in it for power.  What are the results of an individual's life?  How do they shape the world around them?

And from our home gardens, and the plots in the Community Garden, we have a sense of that.  Berries and fruit trees, or the vegetables that now begin to fill our summer tables, all of these things give us a sense of what makes for "good fruit."  Here it is, right on the plant, and either it grows or it doesn't.  Either it tastes good or it doesn't.

This year, I decided to do something a little bit different in my front yard.  To the beans and berries and tomatoes and squash, I added in a half-barrel filled with dirt and compost.  The goal: potatoes.

Hailing from Scots-Irish ancestry, I think there's something in my genetic makeup that's particularly fond of potatoes.  They're just good, hearty, flexible, energy-yielding yum-ness.  You can bake them with a sprinkling of garlic, salt, and olive oil.  You can fry them.  You can boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew.

As I learned when doing my pre-planting research, potato plants are interesting critters for another reason.  They will produce fruit.  Not always, but when the conditions are just right, those pretty little clusters of flowers on the top of the plant will become fruit that looks almost exactly like a tiny little green tomato.

Cut it open, and it's filled with little seeds, just like a tomato.  Eat it, though, and things get a little unpleasant.  Potatoes are the close cousins of deadly nightshade, and both their fruit and their leaves are poisonous.  The poison is particularly concentrated in the fruit, causing headaches, convulsions, intestinal distress, hallucinations, and death.

And so, as the potato plants grow up like gangbusters, their tubers still hidden under the earth, I find myself reflecting on good fruit and our expectations of others.

If you found yourself stranded on an island where wild potatoes grew, you might see the fruit and think, hey, maybe I can eat that.  But after you munched down the fruit, by the end of the next day you'd be pretty darned sure you knew the answer to that question.

Stay away from those plants, you'd say to yourself, groaning.  They're poisonous and horrible.

But that's just because you'd only be looking at the surface, and seeing the thing that *seemed* to be the edible part of the plant.  You'd be making a judgment about what was and was not good based on a partial understanding.

And you'd go a little hungrier for it.

We make the same mistakes with other human beings, I think.  We have, in our minds, a set image of what it means to be good.  So when we encounter persons whose "fruits" do not meet our expectations, we may choose to label them negatively before considering the fullness of what they have to offer.  We don't give ourselves time to discover the ways in which they may be good, quickly dismissing them as unworthy or our time and attention.

Jesus certainly didn't do that, not with tax collectors or adulterers, not with the outcasts or the unclean or the traditional enemies of his people.  He sought the goodness and saw the potential in all, and challenged us to do the same.

So as I tend my garden plots this summer, I take those moments to think about what is and is not fruit, and remember to consider the wholeness of every person I encounter.