By Steven Norris

The Taylor family (my paternal grandmother’s side) knows a thing or two about farming. For generations, they have cultivated an area of land just outside of Meridian, MS and sold its produce directly to local residents through a number of roadside stands around town. I got to spend a few summers learning the value of hard work harvesting in those orchards, as well as the sweet reward of “tree to table” peaches cut up and poured over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

In addition to peaches, the Taylors grew apples, pears, watermelons, figs, beans, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, and just about any other vegetable you could imagine. Fresh food was never in short supply on Mamaw’s table. This may come as a shock, but never once did we plant an apple seed and harvest peaches from the resulting tree. Never once did we harvest beans from a watermelon vine or figs from a blackberry bush.

Jesus knew a little about planting and harvesting as well. In the Sermon on the Mount, a crystal-clear vision of life in the Kingdom of God, Jesus taught that a person would “be known by their fruit.” Peach trees produce peaches, apples trees produce apples, bean plants produce beans, and so on. Likewise, the quality of the produce reflects the quality of the tree — good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. Jesus is clear that we are not called to be judges (see Matthew 7:1-5), but we are certainly called to be “fruit inspectors.”

It strikes me that the season of Lent may be just the perfect time of year for a little fruit inspection. Jesus’ earthly ministry began with a season of temptation. For forty days, led by the Spirit into the wilderness, he wrestled with questions about the kind of messiah he was truly going to be. Similarly, the forty days of Lent give us time to evaluate the temptations we face and to compare the fruit of our own lives to fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

The moment Christians feel justified abandoning love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control for the sake of preserving and enforcing our own power is the moment we are being led by something other than the Holy Spirit. The moment we abandon the fruit of the Spirit for the sake of security, efficiency, profit margins, retirement accounts, retaliation, revenge, or personal influence, we have exchanged our allegiance to the Kingdom of God for allegiance to another kingdom. The moment we look to political and religious dictators to protect and defend the existence of Christianity, we have stopped trusting in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.*

Lent is a time for each of us to honestly assess the quality of the fruit that our life is producing. If we don’t like what we discover, may we commit to the hard work of weeding, fertilizing, and nourishing the soil around us and inside of us to produce the fruit of repentance and eternal life.

*Credit to Benjamin Cremer for the inspiration behind these connections.