Am I a Good… Tree?

Tales of a Rotten Tree, by Ellise Rottenwood

Come Out and Clean Up

John drew huge crowds away from the complex struggles of the surrounding city and towns. He called people away from their entanglements and proclaimed an available reality:

Can People Be Bad?

Over on Instagram this morning, tosin_akande shared a story where she was musing on how religious identity is often misused in ways to obscure whether someone is actually a good or bad person. She paused at the end to acknowledge the problems with using such language about people, particularly the blunt description of someone as a bad person. But then she looked into the camera and said “but I also feel like we know what I’m talking about when I say ‘a bad person.’” And she was right.

A Fruitless Life Is not Good

So, how do I figure out if I am a good… tree?

First I need to realize that defensiveness or weird religious posturing won’t help. John is prophesying about fulfilling God’s call to Abraham. He preempts the religious rationalizing of people who focus on their legacy by pointing out that God’s grace, received and shared, is what counts; just like with the original Abraham. That means whatever I tend to use as a signal to other people that my church credentials are legit may well need to be actively set to the side. Instead, I need to ask harder questions, like,

“If Jesus was to tell another parable like that of the Good Samaritan using me as one of the characters, would that character be a warning or an encouragement?”

The likely answer, at least the healthy-sounding answer, is that I am not as sure about that as I’d like to be. Such is the kind of posture the people who came out to get cleaned up had; a posture of humility infused with hope. We look to our shortcomings not to despise ourselves, but to find fresh ways to be renewed and to flourish. That is what John wanted for those who heard him, and that is why Matthew included him this way in the build-up to Jesus’ most foundational teaching. We are now following their lead.

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