The Rev’d Derek Arnold
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READING Mark 11.11-26
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
In this passage, we have two unusual and different types of incidents, which are nevertheless related to one another. And they are the cursing of the fig tree and the clearing of the temple. Some might ask how? The cursing of the fig tree was an acted-out parable of the clearing of the temple. The temple was supposed to be a place of worship, but that sense of true worship was not evident anymore..
The fig tree showed some promise of fruit but did not produce any and Jesus was expressing his anger at a religious life without any substance. How often do we proclaim to have faith without putting it to work in our lives? Jesus is then saying well consider yourself a barren fig tree. Genuine faith has great potential to do wonderful things, but we need to ask God to help us bear good fruit for his kingdom.
Fig trees are a popular source of inexpensive food in Israel. It takes three years from the time they are planted until they can bear fruit. Each tree will yield a substantial crop twice a year, once in late spring and then another in early autumn.
The incident in our reading from Mark gospel occurred in the early spring fig season and the leaves were beginning to bud. The figs normally grow as the leaves fill out but this tree although full of leaves had no figs. One might say full of promise but sadly no fruit. Jesus’ harsh words against the fig tree could be applied to the nation of Israel. Fruitful in appearance only.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. Jesus was angry, and there definitely is a place for righteous indignation. Christians should get upset when they see injustice especially if it perpetrated against those who are not in a position to defend or help themselves. In this case, Jesus was angry with those who had turned his house of prayer for all nations into a den of robbers.
Money changers and merchant made lots of money during Passover. Those who arrived from foreign places had to have their currency converted into the only currency accept in the temple to pay the tax and purchase animals for sacrifice. And obviously the exchange rate benefited the money changers and the merchants got rich off the high price of the animals.
What annoyed Jesus even more about these practices was that the stalls were set up in the Temple of the Gentiles, frustrating and causing a barrier to those non-Jews who had come to worship. We also need to be mindful that we too don’t create barriers to people wanting to come into our churches and worship.
O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same.
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen