Summary: If we are to effectively witness the Gospel to the world, regarding all kinds of evil, and living virtuous lives, we must do exactly as God has done to us: love the sinner and hate the sin.
It’s amazing how similar the climate in the Holy Land is to the climate here in South Texas, especially in the summer. The figs in our back yard are ripening, and I understand that this hot month in Palestine is also the season for ripe figs. The Scriptures are right even on agricultural matters–if a fig tree bears no fruit, you have to aerate the soil and fertilize it so it can bear next year. If it fails to do so the next year, then it is worn out and needs to be cut down. If it is diseased, it can’t bear fruit of any quality.
Jesus, of course, is not addressing his hearers so they can make more money from their fruit trees. He starts off warning us about false prophets. As a famous coach once said about his new football team–they look good getting off the bus, but can they perform on the playing field? Can they score against a strong opponent? Catholics have a great deal of experience in this game. We have played about two thousand seasons against the fiercest opponent in the universe, one that always plays for keeps, cheats “religiously”, and hates to lose, especially to mere humans. During the apostolic times, there appears to have been a man named Nicolas; his followers were called Nicolaitans. They taught that you could follow Christ but still worship idols and engage in perverse sexual practices. They played a game without rules. They said “Lord, Lord,” to Christ, but it was all words. They would not do the Father’s will, and they lost the game of life. To use the original analogy, their fruit was rotten and it made anyone who ate it spiritually sick to death.
Our Lord is warning against false prophets like Nicolas today, because their followers have convinced themselves that they are disciples of Christ. They come to some church every Sunday. They may even tithe. They call Jesus Lord and may even have the strongest voices in the choir. But they go out on Monday and ignore Jesus’s Law of Love. And the worst part is that people who see them believe from their actions of embezzlement, cursing, gossip, fornication, lying and misuse of the Lord’s name that Christians are just cross-wearing hypocrites. That’s scandal, and they are moreover teaching their children that such behavior is acceptable in a Christian. So each of us is challenged today to examine our consciences, repent, confess our sins and clean up our act. It’s absolutely necessary if we want to continue to claim allegiance to Our Lord and His Church.
A few weeks ago I watched a thirty-minute video that could have been made by Saint Paul. Today, as he writes to the church at Rome, he is also speaking to us twenty-first century Catholics. All of us who have been around the circuit of decades a few times have at one time or another been slaves to sin. That is, we have had a bad habit, a self-destructive or other-hurting behavior that we found difficult to break. Maybe we are trying to kick one of them right now. When you are a slave to sin we fool ourselves into thinking we are free to do what pleases us. But it doesn’t make us happy; each repetition gives less pleasure and more guilt. And we get no return. Smoking, drinking to excess and pornography and self abuse come to mind. But there’s also habits like those I listed earlier–gossip, cursing, and “little white lies.” If we fail to repent of those vicious habits and keep them until we die, then we die forever. We are enslaved forever. We can never, ever see the face of God. The God-shaped hole in our hearts will always be empty. The hell we find in this life, a hell of slavery, never ends. That’s exactly the opposite of what God wants for us.