In yesterday's readings we had Lot as the example of how we should not judge by appearance. In today's gospel we are instructed that the best way to judge is the metaphor of the fruit tree. We are judge by the fruit that the tree bears, either good or bad.
But there is a caution here. Anyone familiar with fruit trees knows that even the best tree from time to time bears a bad piece of fruit. It doesn't mean you cut the whole tree down.
Remember Luke 13
And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. [So] cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
We are all too ready to cut down the tree. George Will recently quipped that the largest growth industry in the US was "the manufacture of synthetic indignation." One mistake, one sin, one error in judgement and we are ready to reduce a person's entire life to one bad decision, and cut down the tree. We fly into fits of feigned shock and synthetic indignation.
I think of a man like Gen. David Patreus, a man who committed what has always been considered one of the worst mortal sins, adultery. But he also lived a life dedicated to the service of his country, and as best I know was a man of faith and convictions. How should we judge him?
Let the one among you without sin cast the first stone.
Yes we are to judge a tree by the fruit it bears, but we must look at the totality. If we cut down ever tree in the orchard that ever produces a bad apple we are going to end up with not an orchard but an empty field. Only two sinless people ever walked this earth Jesus and Mary. The rest of us depend on God's to help us do good, and God's forgiveness when we sin.