After these things 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; no one 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. On 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
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 Jesus stated that a good tree is known by its good fruit, he was referring to the annual fruit harvest rather than to a single harvest, once for all time. At the same time he warned how some people could be misled, "Be on guard against false prophets… You will know them by their deeds." We need to be attentive not to compromise our faith and our convictions, little by little, in the face of daily temptations. Continuing the analogy of the fruit tree, we know that a tree generally does not die in a single moment but rather decays gradually from within.
Such was the trial of Abram. Over the long years of his marriage with Sarah, no child had been conceived, so he complained to God, "What good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?" He repeated his question, for the long testing of his confidence in the Lord was getting the better of him. Why keep on hoping against hope (Rom 4:18)? Abram's dream not only churned up his doubts but also reached still more deeply into his heart and helped him persevere. After dividing the sacrificial animals on two sides, he saw a smoking brazier and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. But first birds of prey swooped down and Abram had to stay with the sacrifice and persistently drive off the birds. Even though doubts and hesitation were almost destroying his faith, he stayed with them and persevered.
Then under the symbol of smoke and fire, the Lord passed between the divided animals, whose blood, flowing between the two sides, with God in between, symbolise the bond of life between God and his servant Abram. Within this intimate moment, Abram shared his agony with God, and he believed, not merely with intellectual assent but rather with surrender of his whole self to God, his joys and ambitions, his entire span of life on earth. Here was a tree that bore good fruit, retaining its health and vigor all through the years!
Jesus draws attention to the gap there can often be between appearance and reality. Just as there can be more to some people than meets the eye, so there can be less to some people than meets the eye. It is that second situation that Jesus highlights in the gospel. He speaks of those who look like sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. They project an attractive image but it is false and deceptive. Where our hearts are does not always correspond to how we appear to others. Jesus declares that the real test of where our hearts are is the kind of fruit that our lives bear. 'You will be able to tell them by their fruits.' St Paul used that same language of 'fruit' when, in his letter to the Galatians, he speaks about the 'fruit of the Spirit', 'love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.' Even though Paul lists different qualities, he doesn't speak of 'fruits' but of 'fruit.' There is one fruit of the Spirit which can be described in all these different ways; the term which best describes this one fruit is the first term in Paul's list, 'love.' If our lives bear that kind of fruit, our heart belongs to God. We are like the 'sound tree' Jesus refers to in the gospel.