Three years ago, while studying the Gospel of Matthew with the church, I wrote a post called “What Kind of Fruit?.” The purpose of the post was to examine what Jesus referred to as “fruit.” What exactly did Jesus mean when he said the “righteous” would “bear fruit”?
In my previous post “Missing the message in the details?“, I mentioned that there is a common theme running through the end of the Sermon on the Mount. That theme is the importance of “fruit” or doing good deeds. In fact, that theme actually begins at the start of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus tells his listeners – and us – to let your light shine before men.
But, when Jesus is talking about good deeds, shining our light, and bearing fruit, what kind of fruit is he talking about? Can we do anything and call it “fruit”? Do we get to decide what is a good deed? Can we define “letting our light shine”?
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus points toward his own actions of healing diseases, casting out demons, restoring sight to the blind, etc. as examples of good deeds. When he sends the twelve out in chapter 10, he tells them to do the same things. Is this what Jesus desires from us? Do we love others only when we are healing diseases and casting out demons?
I think, as we continue to read through Matthew’s Gospel, we’ll find something much simpler involved in doing “good deeds”. Remember the very popular passage in Matthew 25:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)
The actions that the King (God) desires to see in the “righteous” are simple acts that demonstrate the love of God to those who most need it: some food and drink, a place to live, clothing, and relationships.
Instead of taking this passage at face value, we usually change it to one of two extremes. While the remainder of this post probably belongs to my “Scripture… As We Live It” series, I wanted to discuss this in more detail. Consider the following “re-mix” of Matthew 25:35-36:
For I was hungry and you sent in a tax deductible donation, I was thirsty and you started a Bible study, I was a stranger and you built a new building, I was naked and you gave some clothing to the Salvation Army, I was sick and you attended a prayer meeting, I was in prison and you sent a letter to your congressman complaining about the prison system.’ (Matthew 25:35-36 re-mix)
We often spiritualize or depersonalize this Scripture. By starting or supporting “ministries” we make ourselves feel better. But, when we separate ourselves from the people who actually need the help – when we keep from showing the love of God personally – then we are not living as God would have us live. Yes, it is fine to support “ministries” – my family does this – and yes, it is fine to start Bible studies and prayer meetings – we do this as well. But, we cannot do this in place of personally giving drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.
Another way of depersonalizing the love of God is by dealing with “social causes” instead of hurting individuals. For example, instead of giving drink to a thirsty woman, we join a cause to provide clean drinking water. Instead of giving food to a man who is hungry, we give to a relief effort to end world hunger. Instead of giving clothes to a young child who has nothing to wear, we support a local “clothes closet”. Yes, we can and we should support these “social causes”. But, we cannot support “causes” at the expense of neglecting thirsty, hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned individuals.
What kind of fruit does God expect? I think he expects the kind of fruit that demonstrates his love on a person by person basis… the kind of fruit that touches and hugs and listens and watches and learns and helps… the kind of fruit that grows through sweat and tears and dirty hands.
God loves people. And, he wants his children to look into the eyes of other people and love them.