Waterless Clouds, Fruitless Trees
AFTER quoting Luke’s Gospel where it tells of Christ’s sending out some of his followers to do door-to-door preaching, the article in the Catholic magazine Information, January 1952, breezily asserts: “Those so commissioned, so charged were Catholic laymen.” The same commission is upon Catholic laymen today, the writer contends. But, “it appears that it is others who are going about two by two” preaching. He has in mind such ones as Jehovah’s witnesses, and bemoans their zeal in spreading a “mass of error” while lamenting Catholic failure to preach the “eternal and dynamic truth”.
In a short item following this article a Jesuit priest seems upset about the same situation. After fretting over the zeal of Jehovah’s witnesses and administering a subtle smear by associating them with Communists, he settles down to chiding an apathetic flock:
“The Church today must look to Catholic laymen and laywomen to reach the vast number of nonchurchgoers in the U. S. now estimated as numbering from seventy to one hundred million. Many of these people are out of all contact with Catholic teaching, and it seems they would actually be in a better position to learn about the Catholic truth if they were in Africa, or some other missionary region, where the voice of the missionaries or the catechists could reach them. Many millions in the U. S. A., who are not really members of any religious denomination, are more aloof from Catholic teaching than if they were in a well-served mission land. Catholic lay people are intimately associated with these nonreligious people in business and social life. They know that these people have received little or no religious teaching. The Catholic laity has many opportunities to help them in a tactful way, to the better knowledge of the Church’s teaching and her claims. They can offer to give them Catholic reading matter, take them to a sermon or instruction, or even a retreat, and introduce them to a Catholic Information Center. Nevertheless it would seem, in many cases, that even our Catholic lay folk who have attended Catholic schools, never think of their duty and responsibility to help others learn the Faith, and bring them to the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ.”
But it is not fair to nag at the Catholic population in the foregoing ways. There are large numbers of them who love the Lord and would serve him if they were equipped. The Catholic Church organization is at fault. It has given its people no gospel, no good news to preach. Devout Catholics could tell others about repetitiously praying with beads, or kneeling before images, or enduring rituals in a dead language, or sprinkling water supposedly holy, or buying absolution or Purgatorial releases, or indulging in gambling at Church functions. No good news in such teaching. Nothing inspiring in it. Maybe many Catholics tried it at first, only to find that their hearers confronted them with Bible texts exposing such follies. So they retired in a shell of silence.
How can one perform spiritual works when famished for spiritual food? How can clouds without water pour down refreshing rain? How can barren trees yield nourishing fruit? Throughout the big orthodox religious systems the prophesied condition prevails: “I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11) The masses of people dependent upon these systems for spiritual sustenance have no water of truth, no fruits of the spirit; only religious traditions, formalisms, ceremonies, rituals, and wordy philosophies of self-styled wise men. So they are like “waterless clouds carried this way and that by winds; trees in autumn time, but fruitless”.—Jude 12, NW.
Mark 11:12-14 tells of a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit, and when Jesus went to it to get fruit and found none he cursed it and it withered and died. Again, Luke 13:6-9 tells of a fig tree that had been unproductive for three years, and when the owner ordered it uprooted the caretaker requested that he be allowed to give it special attention for another year, to see whether it would respond and produce fruit, and if not then he would cut it down.
These illustrations were stated with the Jewish nation in mind. When Messiah Christ came he was hungry to see godly fruitage produced by the Jewish nation in covenant to do God’s will. But he found none, and so eventually that nation withered and died so far as being Jehovah’s chosen people. That nation was like the fig tree that had the appearance of being fruitful but was not. As shown by the illustration in Luke, this nation was given special and exclusive attention for years before it was cast off and the gospel went to the Gentiles. Yet it never became fruitful in godly works, as a nation.
When Jude 12 speaks of the waterless clouds and fruitless trees, it adds concerning the trees, “having died twice, having been uprooted.” How twice destroyed? First, these trees were as good as dead because they did not produce fruit. Not only were they taking up space but they were also costing money, because in Palestine at that time fruit trees were taxed. So to use the space to good advantage and to avoid paying tax on a worthless tree, it was uprooted. That would mark a second and final death for it, no stump being left out of which new shoots might grow. So the tree once as good as dead due to its fruitlessness becomes actually dead when uprooted, or twice dead. It illustrates the end of men and organizations who claim to serve God but who do not.
If we are to be pleasing to God we must bear Kingdom fruit. John 15:1-8 shows this clearly. Branches that bear no fruit are cut off entirely from the theocratic organization and die. Branches that do bear fruit are pruned so that they can bear more. Just as excess twigs and suckers are trimmed from a branch so that the sap and strength they once used can now go to fruit production, so all useless pursuits are pruned out of the Christian’s life to gain freedom for gospel-preaching.
True Christians will so use their time and energy. They do not have to be chided into it. A proper understanding of the good news of Christ’s kingdom thrills and inspires them to serve God. So let the Catholic Church reconsider the dry husks comprising its spiritual menu, and it will see why those who feed at its table are listless and apathetic, without spiritual zest and zeal. And let honest Catholics examine the Bible to see the source of strength for Jehovah’s witnesses.