40 WAYS 40 DAYS #17 Be On Guard

17. Be On Guard 7:15-20, (Matthew 16:6, 24:4-6).


Matthew 7:15-20 

 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.

Matthew 16:6 

Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’

Matthew 24:4-6 

Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

“Look out!” says Jesus.

The way I ask my kids to pick up their socks is pretty different to the way I speak to them when they are crossing a dangerous road.

Such is the image that Carol Owen explored for us in the way previous Way #16 Take Alternative Route. 

Jesus finishes his Sermon on the Mount in the same  he ends all of his preachy/teachy bit’s in Matthew (there’s 4 others; Chapter 10,13,18 &24-25)  by emphasising the dangers of listening but not doing.  If you want to ‘enter’ the kingdom it’s time to discern the right way and cross the road!

My love/hate relationship with the demanding vs. grace filled invitation of the Sermon on the Mount continues here.  My default is to desire a generous kind of orthodoxy, looking optimistically for the best in myself and others, but the binary categories here grate against that.  (easy vs. hard, many vs. few, destruction vs. life, good vs. bad.)

It is difficult for me to appreciate this struggle, because I’m soft.  Unlike my vibe reading this sermon, it feels relatively easy being Christian in our culture.  Attending church whilst not sexy ‘dominant culture’ is neither difficult.  We think a feeling of ‘community’ and being  ‘spiritual’ should feel warm and fuzzy rather than something searingly, soul searchingly difficult.  Discernment and discipline within the community of Jesus’ followers doesn’t really get big raps in our consumer spirituality landscape.  

Unlink my safe white middle-class existence, Matthew’s community, as many places in our world today, lived in a context of bitter and complex division where such emphasis was required for survival.  The severity of emphasis here is our capacity for self deceit and of the power of evil even within us and the church.  Matthew suggests evil disguised as discipleship is to be anticipated in the church.  Lest this lead to anxious confusion and mistrust, we are told to trust that the results of such will become clear in due course and that we should take this seriously.

Of course this can easily become sectarian.  This is why we need the balance that Ewen Curnow reminded us of in Way #13 “Don’t judge”.  

Given such emphasis on ‘first the log and then the speck’, I think a helpful way to take on this teaching, especially during Lent, is to use these metaphors to first examine ourselves and our own culture rather than that of others.

In what ways do we disguise our truly selfish motives as noble purposes and so deceive ourselves?

What is the true fruit of our own actions?

How are the mission statements personal and organisational, disguise self serving, even destructive processes and dynamics?

In a world of marketing, spin and information saturation it’s easy to surround ourselves with ‘easy’ people and the messages we want to hear.  We clothe ourselves in the warm and fuzzy of ‘sheep skin’ rather than dealing with the honest struggle of discerning the truth about ourselves and our associations in truly honest relationship and community.

I also think we too easily lose the economic power of Jesus’ fruit metaphor made  in an agrarian society.  One way I seek to counter this personally is to try to clean out my wallet each week and ponder Jesus reframing his message for today as “by their ‘receipts’ you will know them…”


Clean out your purse/wallet of receipts.

Take a moment to prayerfully consider what ‘fruit’, for good or bad this investment reflects in you.

Seek out some honest feedback from a trusted friend about a weakness.

Meur ras ha Kres (Much Grace and Peace)

Marcus Curnow



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