Homily June 28th, 2023

Wednesday of the 12th week in Ordinary Time – Mt 7:15-20

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of the need to discern well in our lives, and then to take action based on what we’ve discerned. We can consider both of these elements, as well as practical considerations to put these into practice.[1] “Regarding discernment, here Jesus Christ gives few, but substantial, criteria.

First and foremost, He points out that “they come in disguises,” that is, they “appear” like sheep, but are really wolves. Jesus’ words, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes?” should be understood bearing in mind that “there was a certain thorn, the buckthorn, which had little black berries which closely resembled little grapes. ‘Or figs from thistles?’ There was a certain thistle, which had a flower, which, at least at a distance, might well be taken for a fig. . . .  [In this sense Our Lord wants to say that] there may be a superficial resemblance between the true and the false prophet,”[2] but that the difference jumps out when they are carefully examined. By pointing out that the evil ones are disguised as good, Christ teaches us not to judge by the first and superficial impression that we have. A disguise is something that covers exteriorly, but the person continues being who they are. What He tells us is that we should neither be in a hurry to canonize others, nor to be enthusiastic about them without first examining them attentively. A disguise is usually imperfect in its details, and His allusion is an invitation to make a complete examination; only after probing all the aspects of a person and their doctrine, and after having approved such an inspection, can we give them credence.

Another criterion is the fruits: “By their fruits you will know them.”“Every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.” For the examination to be completed, it must therefore include the fruits. This makes it clear that those people who make “hurried judgments” cannot have good discernment, since every plant needs time in order to bear fruit. Those who trust in their first impressions cannot have observed the fruits of anything or of anyone.

 (a) The first true fruit is that of interiority; in contrast, evil is only exteriority. Jesus fought a great deal against the Pharisees, since they made holiness consist of only exterior matters, in the purely legal and ceremonial fulfillment of the things of God. “These [the interior things] you should have done, without neglecting the others,” the exterior. Without an interior life, there is no real faith.

(b) The second fruit of a good tree is, precisely, to give fruit, that is, something positively good (since such is the idea that we always have of the word “fruit”). When the doctrine or the person of someone produces a positive fruitfulness around them, meaning, virtues, good works, that tree is good. When something produces works that are less good than those that already existed, it is really not producing fruit but rather trimming back the fruit that was given earlier; it is even clearer when the tree gives poisonous fruits, that is, defects appear that were not there before, or that had previously been conquered, like vices.

 (c) The third good fruit is firmness in good convictions, in faith, and in good resolutions. In contrast, bad fruits would be doubt, hesitation, the abandonment of one’s resolutions, etc. In this sense, any teaching that removes the rock-like firmness from religion, any teaching that excludes the cross, all doctrine that eliminates a healthy fear of condemnation, or places the truths of the faith in the judgment seat, are fruits of false prophets. The enemies of Christ were, as Saint Paul says, “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

 (d) One last fruit we find in the relation between faith and life. The good tree always keeps these two dimensions united; the evil one separates them, and preaches but does not live what it preaches.

Another criterion we can see reflected in the exhaustive affirmation of Our Lord when He says that a good tree gives good fruit, and cannot give bad ones; on the contrary, a bad tree gives bad fruits, and cannot give good ones. If we take His words literally, they seem like an exaggeration, since sometimes some unripe fruits are gathered from good trees, and the contrary can happen with bad plants. However, He could also want to say that, in order to discern correctly, a person must know how to wait and look for the confirmation of the fruits, that is, how they develop in time. The devil can make, accidentally and temporarily, good things happen when these, in the long run, turn out to be less good, distractive, or even harmful for the person involved. In order to discern it is not enough, then, to consider the first moments when the things appear to be good, but rather their last development. The wheat and the tares look like each other in the beginning, but, as they grow, they are easily distinguished.

 One last criterion that we can take is that of the resistance of the fruits. Good fruits resist the onslaughts of their surroundings; the bad fruit breaks off easily. This is the criterion that Gamaliel recurred to before the Sanhedrin: “Have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them” (Acts 5:38-39). The success of the works in the face of trials and difficulties are the touchstone. We see that no human power could destroy the truth of the messages of Lourdes or of Fatima, in spite of the weakness of the witnesses (weak and uneducated children) and the fierce opposition of worldly powers, while so many false visionaries have been swept away forgotten.

 “Beware!” Discernment ends in a practical attitude. We distinguish between good and evil in order to avoid the latter and embrace the former. We avoid evil by distancing ourselves from it, not giving it credence, and denying it our attention and curiosity; we embrace good by practicing it.

Today, we can ask ourselves: how well do we discern? Do we take time to examine carefully the things we hear and believe, or do we just rush to conclusions? Let us pray, through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Heaven, for the grace to live out the Sermon on the Mount, and thus imitate Christ.


[1] We follow the commentary of Fr. Fuentes in Maturity according to Jesus Christ.

[2] William Barclay’s commentary on this passage.

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