“A sound tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree bad fruit.”

Matthew 7:17

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Matthew 7:15-20

This saying is part of the collection of teachings that Matthew has put into three chapters (5-7) in his gospel. This warning about false teachers and false prophets comes immediately after yesterday’s reading about the wide road which leads to hell and the narrow road which leads to life. 

It is tempting to think of the many church leaders who set themselves up today as prophets and teachers, producing many books, videos and running their own television stations to publicise their message of “salvation”. Often these teachers and leaders are associated with the “prosperity cult”, which emphasises the notion that Christianity brings material rewards in this life as well as spiritual ones in the next. Some of them are clearly charlatans, and many have been exposed as such when their “miracles” are seen to be fraudulent hoaxes. Others are less obviously so, but their messages are no less harmful in that they distort the message of Christ. Christ never promised us prosperity and well-being – instead, he promised his followers the way of the cross. 

Against all these false prophets, Jesus has a simple warning: “By your fruits you will know them. A sound tree produces good fruit; a rotten tree bad fruit”. What are the fruits of these various preachers and teachers? Is it goodness, humility, simplicity, kindness, generosity, honesty, transparency? Or is it corruption, pride, vainglory, excessive wealth, and perversion of justice? We in our country have seen many leaders who have come bearing promises of those things but gone away personally rich while perverting the cause of justice and destroying accountability and public trust. We don’t need to look far to see these “ravenous wolves” in our society.  

But as well as looking outward, it is necessary to look inward: are there ravenous wolves also within? Are there perversions of those good qualities within us too?  Are we also wolves disguised as sheep? What are the fruits of our own lives? Are they goodness, kindness, generosity, love, forgiveness, and peacefulness? Or are they the opposites of those?


Grant me discernment to see the difference between good and bad leaders, to distinguish the sheep from the wolves, and live the kind of life that only results in good fruit and not bad.


Tim Smith

Tim Smith is Regional Director for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Southern Africa, which covers Angola, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He lives in Cape Town with his wife Shona and son Patrick.

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