The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the Lord came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; nobody but your very own issue shall be your heir."
He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. AbrahamOn that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."
Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
O sing to him, sing his praise;
tell all his wonderful works! (R./)
Be proud of his holy name,
let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice.
Consider the Lord and his strength;
constantly seek his face. (R./)
O children of Abraham, his servant,
O sons of the Jacob he chose.
He, the Lord, is our God:
his judgements prevail in all the earth. (R./)
He remembers his covenant for ever,
his promise for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits."
When judging a tree by its fruit, Jesus was speaking like a countryman who has often seen his neighbours harvesting olives and other fruits. He knew how the produce of a tree could be improved by careful cultivation and timely pruning. Extending the analogy, we know that generally a tree does not die in a single moment but rather decays gradually from within. Such a fruitless tree can cause disappointment and frustration.
Such was the trial of Abram. When after long years of marriage Sarah has conceived no child, he complained to God, "What good will your gifts be, if I have nobody to inherit them but the steward of my house, Eliezer?" The long testing of Abram’s confidence was getting the better of him. Why keep on hoping against hope (Rom 4:18)? His dream not only churned up his doubts but also helped him persevere in hope. After dividing the sacrificial animals on two sides, he saw a smoking brazier and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. When the birds of prey swooped down, Abram had to stay with the sacrifice and drive off the birds. Even though doubts and hesitation threatened his faith, he clung on and persevered.
In the symbols of smoke and fire, the Lord passed between the divided animals, whose blood, flowing on the altar, symbolised the bond of life between God and his servant Abram. At this spiritual sign, Abram shared his agony with God, and he believed — not merely with intellectual assent but with a surrender of his whole self and his ambitions, to the living God. Abraham became like a tree that bore good fruit, retaining its health and vigor all through the years!
What a gap there can be between appearance and reality. Just as there is more to some people than meets the eye, others may turn out to be less than they first seemed. Jesus warns against false leaders whose ambitions are quite the opposite to what they promise. Outwardly they may look like sheep but underneath they are ravenous wolves. The suave image they project is false and deceptive. What we really desire is not always what others might think. Fro Jesus, the real test of our heart’s desire is the kind of fruit that our lives bear. ‘You will be able to tell them by their fruits.’
St Paul also uses the image of ‘fruit’ when, in his letter to the Galatians, he lists the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ — ‘love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ The practical effects of the Spirit can be described in all these different ways; but the key fruit is ‘love.’ If our lives bear that kind of fruit, we are like the ‘sound tree’ Jesus speaks about.