His disciples said to him, “Who are you, since you say these things to us?” Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand who I am from the things I am saying to you? Rather, you have come to be like the Judeans. For they love the tree, and hate its fruit. And they love the fruit, and hate the tree. [Saying 43, The Gospel of Thomas]
This saying is quite similar to an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees found in John’s Gospel, chapter 8 where they ask, “Who are you?”. His reply is much the same as found here: “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning…I have much to say in judgement of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” [8:25-26]
Here, it is Jesus’s own disciples who question him by asking “Who are you?” In response Jesus compares his followers to Jewish leaders who have asked the exact same thing. He even appeals to “…the things I am saying to you” as evidence of his identity, as he does in John 8:26 where he says “just what I have been telling you from the beginning.”
This is another curious overlap with the Gospel of John. However, in this case, it is the Gospel of Thomas which seems to be reacting to something from John’s Gospel, rather than John responding to something in Thomas. Perhaps this saying was added later, after John’s version was published. The comparison to “the Judeans” is thereby a direct reference to John 8:26. If not, the parallels between the two texts might suggest that both Gospels are referencing the “before and after” side of the two conversations—John reporting the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, and Thomas providing insight into what Jesus and his disciples talked about later in private.
At any rate, this saying involves a question for Jesus about his identity. This question is posed by his own inner circle of disciples. There’s no indication that his disciples doubt him in any way, but simply want to know more about who he is (or at least to know how Jesus would describe himself to them in his own words).
As with most of those who come to Jesus with a direct question, they receive no straight answers. They instead get asked a question of their own to ponder: “Do you not understand who I am from the things I am saying to you?”
This question puts them back into a place of wondering and remembering everything he has said to them thus far. If they understand and believe what he’s been saying to them, they will have no doubts about who he is. They will, in fact, also understand who they are in a much deeper way.
Jesus follows his question up with an observation that is unique to this text. He states that the Jewish leaders who question him have become like those who “love the tree and hate its fruit, and who love the fruit and hate the tree.”
What are we to make of this analogy? Rather than examine every nuance of this saying, let’s simply step back and realize that there is no fruit without the tree, and no tree without the fruit, which provides the seeds to grow the tree in the first place. They are inseparable from one another. You can’t have fruit without trees, and you can’t have trees without the seeds which come from the fruit. The tree and the fruit are one.
So, when Jesus says that those who doubt and question him are loving the tree but hating the fruit, or vice versa, he’s pointing out – once again – that there is no separation between God and humanity. We cannot love God if we hate one another. We can’t love one another if we hate God. God is love and we are all made in the image of God, who is love.
How can we say we love God if we hate our brothers and sisters? How can we love the tree and hate the fruit of that tree? How can we love the fruit and hate the tree that produced it? This analogy is not merely about God and Jesus, it’s about God and everyone who is made in the image of God, which is everyone.
This saying invites us to dig deeper—to ponder the mystery of our connection with God and one another. As we consider the relationship between trees and fruit, we can see how foolish it is to hate one and love the other. It is impossible to separate the fruit from the tree, or the tree from the fruit. If we accept one, we must accept the other. If we love the source, we must love what comes from the source.
There is no other way.
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Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” He hosts the Second Cup with Keith podcast, and co-hosts the Apostates Anonymous podcast, and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast.
His latest book, Second Cup with Keith is available now on Amazon HERE>