Guest Post: Mature Trees and Ripe Fruit
By Maureen Edgerly
Dave Chappelle is a comedian who pushes the envelope on social issues. He takes his audience to that uncomfortable place where wrestling is necessary. He recently lamented the saga of his childhood hero Bill Cosby who has fallen from grace to villain. Chappelle recounted the many philanthropic good deeds performed by Cosby over the decades AND the many accusations and recent conviction of rape. You can hear the dissonance and disappointment in Chappelle that his former hero was now guilty of heinous crimes. How do these disparate identities inhabit one person?
Celebrities aside, I suspect we’ve all have heroes in our lives. Some of these people were placed on pedestals of our own creation and weren’t even aware of their exalted prominence in our psyche. Initially we saw them one-dimensionally as a hero—someone to look up too. As we mature we can see more dimensions in each person. Some of what we see is unpleasant.
Pondering dichotomies led me to scriptures referencing good and bad fruit. The following is a discussion about a few scriptures, a contextual explanation and then application.
The Allegory of the Olive Tree in Jacob 5 is about an olive vineyard with tame and wild trees producing variations of good and bad fruit. Throughout the allegory, the servants in the vineyard graft branches into and out of trees in an attempt to have the main tame tree bring forth good fruit. The tame trees represent the House of Israel and the wild trees everyone else. The decay represents apostasy which has afflicted the tame trees. Grafting in branches from the wild trees brings new vitality to the tame decaying trees. There’s a whole lot of grafting going on in this allegory and it covers the time period from the beginning of the House of Israel through the Millennial Reign.
Following on the fruit-tree theme, consider Matthew 7:15-20 (New American Bible):
“Be on your guard against false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but underneath are wolves on the prowl. You will know them by their deeds. Do you ever pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from prickly plants? Never! Any sound tree bears good fruit, while a decayed tree bears bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit any more than a decayed tree can bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. You can tell a tree by its fruit.”
Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic during his mortal life. David Brisbin’s book The Fifth Way: A Western Journey to the Hebrew Heart of Jesus unpacks many of the Aramaic and Hebrew words/phrases used by Jesus to add cultural context and understanding. Brisbin explains the Aramaic word taba, which is usually translated as “good,” literally means “ripe.” Ripe fruit or vegetables were capable of sustaining life, which was “good.” Goodness and ripeness were synonymous with “life-sustaining.”
Let’s extend this thought to people in general, then to our scriptural examples, and then back to ourselves.
When we think of being a good person, we think of someone who does good things, right things according to our standards. But a good person in the Aramaic Agreement (cultural context) is not someone who simply does right things, but someone who is ripe, ready, and capable of seeing the goodness of true relationship, the goodness of really being as one with someone else, in unity with God and each other. As a result, a good person is someone who will do everything and anything in his or her power to foster and protect that unity and those relationships. . . .
Being good is not about behavior, about following codes or rules; it’s not even about having a standard by which to judge at all. Being good is having matured into a person who is in love with unity, who loves being one with someone else and lives accordingly. . . . A good person is someone who is in the right place at the right time and can’t help doing that which is in harmony with Kingdom and shalom.
Being bad then, being evil is also not about doing bad things, but about being incapable, unready to see the possibility of unity anywhere, of being too unformed, or too damaged to see the goodness, the necessity of true relationship in life. “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing,” rings out from [Jesus] with additional force, because the actions of such a person are random with respect to relationship building—harmful, hurtful, even catastrophic, because they aren’t ready, ripe enough, to see what is really good.
This is not to present an excuse for harmful behavior, it’s just a statement of the facts of life, a look at the genesis of the behavior we act out and an insight into how God sees us and continues to love us in spite of unlovely behavior (Brisbin, pg. 271).
If we substitute “ripe” and “mature” for “good” as we think about the trees and fruit, it makes sense that only a mature tree is capable of bearing ripe fruit. Consider the scripture Mark 11:13 where Jesus curses the fig tree who had put forth her leaves signifying ripe fruit, but was actually barren. At first take this is a strange scripture and Jesus appears to randomly strike down an innocent tree. On a deeper level, this fig tree represents false prophets/teachers who appear to have ripe fruit, but in reality do not have sustainable produce. The fig tree was pretending to be mature and ripe but it was not.
What about Jacob 5? Could the tame trees also represent the correlated, white-washed version of our history that are no longer sustaining members? Could the wild trees represent the messy, strange, unique history that is often not taught or discussed? Could the wild trees also represent truth beyond our doctrine, yet truth just the same? Is it possible to sustain the tame tree with a large graft full of transparency and energy from these wild sources? President Nelson says the restoration is ongoing. I am looking forward to more.
The church is bringing forth some new fruit as evidenced by the release of the Gospel Topics Essays, the publication of the book Saints, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and the changes in the correlated materials.
I like Brisbin’s explanation of maturity and ripeness. There is charity in this approach. When I consider some of my thoughts and actions I KNOW they are/were good, mature and ripe. I also know I have thoughts and actions that are immature and unripe. I know it before I even do or say something, yet I do it anyway.
The dichotomy exists within me, but thankfully I am not done maturing. I can see myself and my actions for what they are, knowing there is room for improvement. I can maturely (ripely) respond rather than immaturely, reflexively react. Charity begins at home. Understanding the context of Jesus’ teachings has brought peace to my soul. I do not have to beat myself up over the past. Each day is a new occasion to grow.
Brisbin says some people are unformed or too damaged to see goodness possibilities. I agree but also suggest there are often opportunities to continue maturation no matter one’s age or life circumstances. We have relationships with many people who are all at different places on the maturity scale. Those more “mature” nurture us, just as we nurture others.
In Mark chapter 12, Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We can experience charity towards ourselves when we see ourselves as Maturing Beings, capable of both immature reactions and mature responses. In so doing, we can see the same in our neighbor and have compassion.
Carol Lynn Pearson, in her recent book The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy, explains that she still loves Joseph Smith despite the fact that he broke her heart. She is able to see the human Joseph with all his wonderful gifts, yet still not condone some of his actions. She can love the man as a complete person, not just the church hero we often make him out to be.
What do you think? Do you agree with Brisbin’s thoughts on good, bad, maturity, and ripeness? Can you see yourself and your fellow human beings in all their complexity and understand them more fully without condoning their unripe, bad, or evil actions? Do you feel more charity for yourself?
Maureen lives in Maryland where she bakes pies. Art work generously provided by Maureen’s sister, Anne Trombetta.