The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
 "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks"

Scripture:  Matthew 12:33-37

33 "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Meditation: How do you know for certain that a tree is healthy and life-producing? Outward appearances can be misleading or even deceptive. There may be rottenness or decay inside! But if a tree continues to bear good fruit year after year, then you know it is sound and healthy. Jesus uses this analogy as a mirror image of the true condition of one's heart and moral character. What's inside of us - the inner core of our being, the place of choice and will, desire and passion, attitude and disposition - will either produce good or bad fruit! And it will be obvious to everyone who knows us what kind of fruit we are bearing.

Our daily speech and actions reveal what is really inside the heart. That is why Jesus called the religious leaders of his day a "brood of vipers". When they saw Jesus casting out demons they branded him an ally of the devil (Matt. 12:24). The tongue of a viper is double-forked making it doubly effective in striking its enemy! The scribes and Pharisees professed knowledge of God and his law, but they betrayed their evil intention and ill-judgment towards Jesus because he claimed to speak and act in God's name.

It is often when we are angry that we let out guard down and reveal what we actually think about others. We can say nice things in public when others are watching us.  But when we speak without thinking, or when restraints are down, we reveal what is really inside of us, what we really are.

A person will produce good or bad fruit depending on what is sown in the heart. Charles Read said: "Sow an act and you reap a habit.  Sow a habit and you reap a character.  Sow a character and you reap a destiny."  Character, like fruit, doesn't grow overnight.  It takes a lifetime. Jesus connects soundness with good fruit.  Something is sound when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20).  The fruits of falsehood produce an easy religion which takes the iron out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin.

How do we avoid falsehood and bad fruit? By being true true to God, his word, and his grace.  And that takes character!  Those who are true to God know that their strength lies not in themselves but in God who supplies the grace we need to live as his disciples. The fruit of a disciple is marked by faith, hope and love, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance.  Do you cultivate good fruit in your life and reject whatever produces bad fruit?

Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on this passage writes: "When he says 'treasure,' Christ refers to the multitude of motives that lie in the soul. It is not by nature that people are good or bad but by their own choice. He makes this plain in his remark to the Pharisees: It is possible for one and the same person at one time to become good, at another time evil, for 'a good man speaks out of the abundance of his heart,' and likewise for the bad."

"Lord Jesus, take my heart, mind and will, and all my thoughts, intentions and actions, and all my desires and affections, and make them wholly yours. Transform me that I may only think and say and do what is pleasing to you and in accord with your will."

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(c) 2007 Don Schwager