What is the nature of the human heart, at its core?
Can we ever really mean what we say? Or are we, in our fallen human natures, doomed always to some element of perjury, of internal discord?
Today’s Gospel reading, though seemingly simple, draws us deep into these questions. Jesus tells us, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its fruit.” Before we dive into the deeper meaning, let us consider the example of a living tree.
The Good Tree
Several years ago, my mother generously arranged to have a collection of trees planted in my backyard. I knew nothing of gardening then, but the following spring, after the trees had had time to mature, I marveled at the various flowers which bloomed forth. I was especially captivated by the magnolia trees, which sprouted forth large, fragrant white blossoms week after week during summer. There was some mysterious inner life within the tree which made itself visible in the form of these flowers. On the other hand, there was also a tree which died the next season; and a few trees which bore leaves but few or no flowers. What was the difference?
I realized that some of the trees were simply healthier and more robust, nourished by good soil and the right balance of sunlight and water. How interesting that they might look similar to others on the outside, but by summertime, the hidden interior differences would become manifest: some gave forth an abundance of flowers, while others yielded none.
The Hidden Life of Love
The human heart is much the same. There are nearly eight billion people on this planet right now, each of us going about our day-to-day lives in similar ways. Yet how mysterious and profound is the hidden inner life of each soul! As we relate with other people over time, we come to know more of who they really are deep within. Why do some people appear quite successful on the outside, yet remain aloof or isolated from others? On the other hand, what is it about the unassuming souls who generously do the works of love towards others?
Quite simply, there is a hidden life of Love at work in us. The human heart is not a mechanical entity but something organic, generative, and love-bearing; yet it can only flourish properly when nourished by the hidden wellspring of divine Love. And it is this inner sustenance which differentiates the “good tree” from the bad one. By its fruits, we come to know the nature of the tree; and by a person’s consistent works of love toward others, we come to know the heart.
The Invitation to Abundance
Jesus offers us this remarkable image: Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. This verse has always had a compelling power for me. It reveals that our words can be vehicles of truth and sincerity when they arise from a well-nourished heart. The “good heart” becomes a treasure out of which flow forth words which are true, bearing life to the world like fruits on a tree. Yet that abundance issues not from our own merits, but from a deeper, hidden source: we must be anchored in divine Love. As the psalmist tells us, we are called to be like “trees planted by streams of water.”
Jesus is intensely interested in each human heart. He invites each of us to respond freely to His “living water” of Love. So that we may each flourish into the “good tree.” Today let us take time to reflect in prayer upon these questions: Is my heart a good tree, bearing the fruits of Love to others? Have I fully availed myself of God’s life-giving grace? And is the Lord inviting me into a deeper flourishing of my heart?
I LOVE the tree analogy! This is a beautiful reflection, thank you.
This was a great response to the reading.