In the classic musical My Fair Lady, phonetics professor Henry Higgins accepts a wager from Colonel Pickering that he can transform the Cockney accent of a young flower-seller so completely that she will pass as an aristocratic lady. In a climactic scene at the Embassy Ball, a rival phonetician declares that Eliza Doolittle is “of royal blood—she is a princess!”
Speech—accent, vocabulary, dialect—can reveal much about us, including what part of the country we’re from and demographic information like our ethnicity or social class. In our passage today, Jesus is not interested in this kind of speech, however. He warns us again about hypocrisy, warning us that our speech reveals the true state of our hearts.
At first glance, our text seems to contradict the verses we read yesterday about not judging. Isn’t declaring one tree good and another bad actually passing judgment? It’s important to remember the call to discipleship that Jesus issues to His followers here. The larger point is the call to humility, not hypocrisy. As we noted yesterday, refraining from a posture of judgment against other people is not the same thing as saying there is no good or bad. But the exhortation about a good tree bearing good fruit is one we should primarily apply to ourselves rather than to make determinations about others.
To emphasize His point about humility and hypocrisy, Jesus concludes this sermon with the story of the wise and foolish builders. Hearing the words of Jesus and refusing to obey them is no better than building a house with no foundation in a storm-prone area. Why do we call Him “Lord”? The answer should be that we call Him “Lord” because we want to obey His word and become more like Him.