Fruitful words

In today’s readings, I am struck by the image of fruit bearing trees—especially living in a cold wintry region with lots of snow on the ground and no real fruit anywhere in sight! But I suppose the passage suggests that even if we live where there is no fruit on trees, or on bushes, there is still “fruit” in what human beings say or do. We ought to be on the lookout for it.

We can often wonder about other people’s motivations: how do I know whether another person is being truthful and trustworthy? When are words of care genuine and when are words only intended to placate, or to manipulate? In the current political climate, we have a good deal of mutual suspicion across political parties, and in workplaces or in families, we might also wonder another’s words have to say about his or her motivations. For example, when does “I love you” mean I want to tend to your needs, and when does it merely mean, “I want you to help me to feel good about myself”?

Jesus gives us some advice: to focus on the good fruit. Words that are followed by loving actions are fruitful words. Words that are out of harmony with a person’s actions might have the appearance of truth, but it is actions that are consistent with words that show us what produces the actions. A person who expresses love and who acts in caring ways is one whose words matter, and a person in whom we can trust.

For example, I am very blessed by a group of supportive female friends with whom I can regularly share conversation. These same friends are also the ones who brought me hugs, and food so I didn’t have to cook when my stepdad died; they have offered to meet for dinner or a drink when I was feeling blue, or send me a text with “hearts” in it when they know I am having a hard day. Their words of love are backed up by actions. I hope to do the same for them. In a good marriage, too, we want to look for places where there is “good fruit” and pay attention to what kinds of conditions support love, kindness, and care—and what kinds of situations are not so beneficial to the relationship. Sometimes it is important to identify and ask for what we need explicitly and not to assume the other person knows already. And we can ask questions that invite another person in a relationship to articulate what his or her needs are? What, in a perfect world, would a good weekend look like for you, I might ask my partner? What can I do to assist my friend who is struggling with an ill family member–can I bring a meal, offer a ride, say some prayers? Sometimes questions that allow other to ask for what they desire are among the most fruitful kinds of words that we can use.

Likewise, we can hope for the same in political life: what kinds of words help governments to get the work of political life accomplished, and actually help people? What words are merely meant to bolster a political party’s reputation or agenda, rather than to bear good fruit? Where do I contribute to either one, here? For example, have I ever converted another person to my own view via a Facebook argument? Is a phone call to my governor a better use of my words and energy?

Jesus especially asks us to pay attention to our own words. What words of mine are fruitful in that they produce good fruit—healing, connection, growth, or love—and which ones don’t help the situation in which I am in, in a concrete way?  It is easy to criticize the “other guy,” for example, my political opponent, and how he speaks. Perhaps sometimes this is needed, but it is not something we really have any control over. But I do have the capacity to speak loving or encouraging words myself. These are the kinds of words that tend to be fruitful in building up other people, and building up loving relationships. Love builds up.

With God, we also have the words of prayer to allow us to express our heartfelt desires, to ask God for what we want, and to help us to ponder what we might want, as well as to listen for what God’s desires for us might be. Prayer is always fruitful, because God always wants to give us what nourishes us—although it may be sometimes be the case that what that nourishment is looks different than what at first we thought.