St. Paul Church, Santa Monica, LA


Mt 7:15-23

The bedrock in Finland is very old, none of it younger than 1,8 billion years. The main part of the bedrock consists of extremely hard sone type called granite. At its deepest, the bedrock reaches down to 40 miles, and is mostly not covered by other, softer segments.

These circumstances were good news for a group of scientist and experts. They formed a cross disciplinary network of physicists, mathematicians, geologists, hydrologists and so forth.

The group was working almost two decades to figure out if the bedrock in Finland could be suitable and safe location for a nuclear waste deposit, and what would be the best – that is, the safest – way to build it. How deep should they dig? How should it be built? What are the other factors they should take into account that might influence the life of the future generations not just decades or centuries but thousands and hundreds of thousands of years, after the nuclear waste was sealed into the deposit?

An American anthropologist Vincent Ialenti followed the work of this group for 12 years, doing what the anthropologist do: learning to know the people, talking about their lives and work, following and observing what they do, and in this case how they work as a group. Based on this, he published in 2021 a book called Deep Time Reckoning.  Ialenti tells how the researchers think that it is their task to find solutions that remain durable and safe also in the faraway future. This kind of work requires careful research and trust in the expertise of researchers of various fields. Above all, it requires deep time.

Deep time is the opposite of what Ialenti calls shallow time. Our time, the times we live in, is prone to shallow time. We expect and insist solutions to the problems we face rather sooner than later. In the middle of the complex crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, or shift in the global political power balance, we tend to look for a quick fix instead of careful and timely deliberations. As a result of this, far too many people all over the world are willing to believe or follow or vote for those who are offering simple answers to the complex questions of our time and of our lives. This is how shallow time works.

With deep time, on the contrary, is with which Ialenti describes particularly the kind of attitude the research group the observed has. The main aim of deep time approach is not: What do I benefit from this? But it is: What would be the most sustainable solutions and decisions today that would promote the common good of today and of tomorrow?

In today´s gospel reading, Jesus warns us about false prophets. He does not tell us however who they are or what makes them false, nor does he say what they claim to prophesize about. But clearly it is important to know that they exist and to know how to recognize them.

Jesus was not the first one in his own cultural context to talk about false or wrong prophets. We can find from the Old Testament, the sacred scriptures of Jesus´ own culture, various similar references to them.

But it was not just two thousand years ago that we could meet those who claimed to be prophets in a way or another. They have existed throughout the history and have appeared particularly in times of trouble and insecurity – exactly the kind of times we live right now. I think we can all name one or more of this kind of leaders or wannabe-leaders – be it a spiritual or political leader, a pastor, a bishop, a president.

So, how do we know a false or a good prophet – a false or a good leader? Today´s first reading tells us to test the spirit, to test the thoughts and teachings of those whose leadership we need to assess. The First John further tries and offers us a simple way to do this: ”By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus[a] is not from God.” (1. John 4:2-3).

But wait a minute – didn´t Jesus just say in the Gospel reading that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…”? The Bible is contradictory here. It is not after all the words that define a prophet or a bishop or a president. Remember how Jesus continues: “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

So, it is not the words but the deeds that speak for the truth. But how can we define fruits that reveal the nature of the tree that bears them? How can we judge whether a fruit is a good or a bad one? Let´s ask Paul. He writes in the letter to the Galatians: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23)

We will stop here for a moment. Try and think of a person, a leader you know personally or a leader that you know of, whom you think bears this kind of fruits. —- Now, think about your own life? How do you live out your own Christian faith? Are these, or at least some of these, the fruits of your own life?

Being a prophet, being a proclaimer, does not require a public role or authority over others. We are all witnesses of Christ. This means a call to be prophetic. And a call to be prophetic makes us responsible of the way we live, the way we live out our Christian faith.

Like the deep time, good fruits are not meant for our own good, but for the common good, for the good of the other, for the good of our neighbour. Our task is not so much to assess and estimate the fruits of the other but our own fruits, our deed and the consequences of our words. Do they witness for Christ? Are they for the best of our neighbour?

There are times in all our lives, when we are able to bear only bitter, bad fruit, times when we fail to love Christ, to love our neighbour, fail to reconcile, to build justice and peace. But there are also times when we are able to bear good fruit, times when we have been able to live out our faith, helping our neighbour. The definition between good and bad does not run between us, it runs within us – within each one of us.

At the times when we fail, and at the times when we succeed, Jesus Christ is our bedrock. Christ is the definite good tree that bears good fruit. Christ is the grain and the vine that nurtures us, and gives us the gifts of the spirit to be used today – but gives us also the gift of hope and a future.