This is a syndicated post from Daily Meditations with Fr. Alfonse. [Read the original article...]
“By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.”
No one, except God, can look into people’s hearts and see what dwells within them. This inability to see within prevents perfect knowledge of others, but God has provided men with the gifts of the senses and reason to know, at least partially, other people as well as the world in which they all live. A person can come to know another person by looking at them, listening to them, and interacting with them, which he will use to construct a profile in the mind that classifies certain features, deduces certain causes, and evaluates and analyzes certain words and actions. In knowing a person or knowing a thing, every person observes what lies outside, using the senses, and processes what lies inside, using the mind.
No one can know as God knows, that is, perfectly from within. Therefore, no one can judge as God judges; if one does not perfectly know what rests within a man’s soul, one cannot judge his soul as good or bad. However, this does not prevent people from making any kind of judgment, for judgment springs from knowledge, and while man cannot know what lies within, he can know what lies appears outside and consequently make a judgment about it. As the classic maxim advises: he cannot judge the sinner, but he can, and should, judge the sin.
In line with popular opinion, many people today will praise themselves for not judging anyone. They do not criticize; they do not doubt; they remain tolerant and accepting. They chastise only those who take it upon themselves to judge, who disrupt the supposed tranquility of tolerance. According to the logic of tolerance, intolerant people cannot judge because they cannot know. Rather, these misguided, hateful, people should follow the example of those who wisely know that they do not know, and simply let everything be. Should excesses occur, let the law resolve it—never mind the fact that human beings determine what they mean by law, not God.
Herein lies the problem with unbridled tolerance: when people stop judging the words and actions to be good or bad, people also stop bothering with even knowing about those words or actions, or with the actual meaning of good or bad. Contrary to what people believe about tolerance, it has not brought people together, nor enlightened them, nor even created any kind of peace. Rather, as history has proven repeatedly and as current news can attest, tolerance has encouraged division and isolation, fostered ignorance, and has fomented unrest and instability on all levels. Consider the following sequence that plays out each time: when people stop judging, they stop knowing; when they stop knowing, they stop thinking and observing; when they stop thinking and observing, sin eventually this vacuum of values and holiness consequently recedes.
Speaking for all times and all places, Jesus exhorts Christians to use common sense and remain steadfast. He does not excuse sinners for being “only human” but appeals to their humanity to follow the good and avoid evil. Human beings may not know what God knows, but they do know something, and they should apply that knowledge. Otherwise, they will consume and produce “bad fruit,” bad ideas, bad morality, bad habits, bad tastes, bad arguments. These things will unfortunately exist in society, as do “thistles,” “thornbushes,” and “rotten trees” will unfortunately exist in nature, but simply ignoring the problem or redefining the problem will not fix it. First, one must identify the problem (observe and think), understand the problem (know), and consider a possible solution (judge). Like bad fruit and weeds, problems will multiply if not addressed, so one must keep his eyes open.
More than tolerating other people, Jesus tells Christians to love them, not for their own sake, but for God’s sake. When someone love another person for God’s sake, he wants to know that person and help that person, not because he wants something in return, but because God wants it and He does this Himself. Man can produce good fruit in a relationship of love: truth, virtue, life, joy, peace. If he does not produce this, he is likely not loving properly, but selfishly, or he is only tolerating, which more often ignores than affirms.
Bad fruit abounds in a world without God, Who is Love and Truth. Abandoning the holy principles of love and truth, even the best organizations and individuals degenerate into the worst ones; the fruit of their thoughts and actions will inevitably betray them. Therefore, man must cling to God, through learning “the way of [His] decrees,” seeing the good blessed fruit that results, and imitating those ways to become good and fruitful themselves.