+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
19th century French essayist Léon Bloy wrote: “Life holds only one tragedy: not to have been a saint”. His quotation expresses the same sentiment as our Lord’s own words. Mankind was created for the Kingdom of Heaven, but the only way in which we will enter this kingdom is by becoming what God has intended for all of us to be: Saints. It is unfortunate that we commonly view sainthood as something extraordinary wherein we see only the best of Christendom. Of course, stories of the Apostles and martyrs doing extraordinary things and enduring cruel torments seems otherworldly when compared to our relatively quiet life. However, their witness (indeed the witness of all the saints) to the Lord Jesus gives us an example to emulate in our own lives and a goal for which we should strive. Our daily prayer should be “Lord make me into a Saint” because a Saint is someone that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven and thereby enters in. Jesus Christ tells us two verses before the Gospel lesson that we must enter into life by the strait or ‘narrow’ gate. The exacting righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven contrasts with broadness of the way that leads to destruction. There are many ways by which a man may not enter into life, but only one way whereby he may attain the calling which God has placed upon all mankind.
Sainthood is nothing more than becoming the creature that God intended you to be in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. A saint is a human being that has been refashioned after the likeness of the Lord Jesus, God made flesh who does the will of the Father, that is, given himself to good works. Fruitfulness is not only the duty of every Christian, but according to the metaphor Christ uses, the natural expectation of the Christian life. Just as you would expect an apple seed, under the right conditions, to grow, mature and bear new apples, so then human beings “fruit” in the same way. The kicker here is that Jesus describes only two kinds of trees: good and evil, and neither tree can produce the fruit of the other. But it may better be described as a lack of fruit. From the parable of the wheat and tares, tares are no more than a weed which produces no useful fruit. What of Christ cursing the fruitless fig tree? All of these examples underscore the same concept. Those who bring forth fruit are gathered in to eternal rest and blessedness, but the ones that produce nothing or “evil fruit” stand condemned.
Corrupt tree – Another word that Jesus uses to describe evil tree is “corrupt” or “diseased”. We use this word abstractly and clinically these days. The politician was “corrupt” because he took bribes. Socrates was accused of “corrupting” the youth of Athens. Each of these examples meaning to pervert or ruin. However, the more basic or natural use would be to describe death and the rotting decay that comes with it. Ever smelled the carcass of the poor animal on the road as you pass by? Ever been struck by the scent of your garbage can in the kitchen that you have to take it out right then and there? Corruption. Something is so dead that it stinks. No wonder these trees have to be hewn down. They are offensive to the senses and they cannot do what they were once able to do by their natures. The disease and corruption has run its course in the tree. Who would eat the fruit (if any) it produced? How could we expect these corrupted and diseased trees to bring forth the good fruit which is expected of them? Sin just like natural corruption rots the soul.
Yet, these diseased trees are only different from their good fruitful counterparts by virtue of their quality. The type of tree is actually the same; apples to apples. It is not the nature of the tree to produce putrid fruit, but the disease within it that corrupts the whole tree.
New Creature – Now the analogy here of course corresponds to people, and specifically here to those who are or would be leaders in the Church, but we apply the lesson broadly to all because every human being suffers from the rotting corrupting disease of sin. What are we to do? If we narrowly focus on the Gospel lesson today we might leave despairing. All we know from these verses in isolation is that there are good trees and rotten trees. Which one am I? Will I be hewn down and thrown into the fire on the last day? Have I done the will of the Father? If we are all honest with ourselves, we must mind that we agree with Saint Paul when he said For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. The disease is there within us, and we all know it. Sin lieth at the door and desires to rule over us. Corrupted and diseased trees eventually die from the disease, and just like the analogy, sin will kill us. What can save these trees? Who can make them whole again? Not just whole, but fruitful? Not by any work of man, not by any power in nature or the created order, but only One can accomplish the task, God himself. Specifically, God made flesh in Jesus Christ. The one who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. He took our nature to himself in order to heal it. In order to undo the principle of sin which leads to corruption and death and to replace it with divine grace, to replace it with himself which leads to life, wholeness, and fruitfulness. Thank God for the Epistle lesson! For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Christ descends in human flesh to elevate us who share in that nature to the heights of the highest heaven. What Christ possesses by his nature as the divine Son of God, Saint Paul tells us that he gives to us by grace to become the children of God. Adopted into the family of God. To be recreated after the likeness of the Lord Jesus himself. Made whole again. Made to be fruitful in good works, which is our offering to God. Giving our lives completely to the Father, through the Son, and by the power of the Spirit which is what we were created to do; to have the hope that when we go to the grave one day and shed this corruptible body, our Lord Jesus will raise us up in the resurrection of the just to new and incorruptible bodies; to become saints! That’s good news brethren.
Why is it tragic if men do not become saints? It’s tragic because it would be as the tree that stays corrupted though the healing has been offered. It’s tragic in that in Christ, God re-created us into new creatures and adopted as sons and daughters, yet men still choose to spurn his loving-kindness, even after partaking in the graces which God has offered. For as beautiful and wonderful as the vision of salvation is, we still live in this moment in time and we wait. We live in a moment where temptations and sin do assail us and where we must work through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body, as Saint Paul says in order that we may live. We are no longer debtors to the flesh. Christians have no obligation to the flesh, no obligation to nurse the disease that so longs to corrupt us again. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die and Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Jesus Christ and Saint Paul say the same thing. Saints, on the other hand, live differently. Saints are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Lord make me into a Saint. Bring forth to completion and maturity what you have planted in me.
God does not just plant divine grace into your soul, say “good luck”, and leave you be. Christianity is no watch-makers religion. No! He gives you graces daily. He gives you the things you need in order to run the race and persevere in the Faith. Just as a good gardener makes sure his trees have everything they need to be fruitful, so Jesus Christ gives you all things in order that he might make you into a Saint. The primary means is in the Holy Communion, where our Lord offers you his Body and Blood; his very life to mortify the sin inside you, to refresh your souls, and to bring you into union with himself. The food of the saints is God Almighty. Take it. Take it with the eyes of faith. Discern the Body and Blood of Jesus in bread and wine. Take it with repentance. Turn away from sins and purpose yourself to amend you lives, by God’s grace, according to his Holy Word. Do this, and God will work within you to make you into what he intended you to be. A Saint. So that at the end of days when we cry Lord! Lord! Jesus will look at us and recognize us as children of the Father and say, Well done, good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.