Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 14

False prophets

‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.  (Mat 7:15-20)
The false prophets Jesus warned about are described using a number of different images. The sheep represents the innocent, non-violent animal that does not defend itself with violence. The wolf systematically uses violence.  The teachers of the law claimed to be zealous for the law, and upholding its protections from assault, murder etc. by teaching and applying the law of legally justified and judicially administered violent responses.
The combined images of grapes, figs and thorns is an allusion to the parable of the trees:
One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king.”
‘But the olive tree answered, “Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honoured, to hold sway over the trees?”‘Next, the trees said to the fig-tree, “Come and be our king.”‘But the fig-tree replied, “Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?”‘Then the trees said to the vine, “Come and be our king.”‘But the vine answered, “Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?”‘Finally all the trees said to the thorn-bush, “Come and be our king.”‘The thorn-bush said to the trees, “If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thorn-bush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!” (Jud 9:8-15)
There is no other combined reference to these two images anywhere in the bible. Generally speaking, the grape vine, fig tree, and olive tree represent God’s holy people being supported by God and producing fruit. Thorns and thistles represent God’s curse and unfruitfulness, and violent danger. In the parable of the trees, the teaching is that the act of ruling over others makes one unfruitful, and it is the violence of ruling over others that oppresses people and puts them at risk of total destruction.
Jesus is asking us to see the fruit of the court system and of the teachings and doctrines of those who purport to teach us God’s laws. We should be perceptive to the fear, the hardships, the inhibition, the losses, the oppression and the violence going on under the name of ‘the rule of law’ and of civil litigation in the court system,  and the state’s criminal justice system. Likewise of the doctrines and concepts that underpin the world’s legal system and the teachings of the theologians who apologise for legally justified violence.

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