Holy Week 2021: Monday
Mark 11:12-26 ////// The Fig Tree with No Figs
Have you ever walked in on someone doing what they were not supposed to? Maybe it was a child or a friend. Or maybe that someone was you and someone caught you in the act! For me, I remember a time when I was in second grade and my friends and I decided that we were going to say some bad words on the playground for fun. The problem with this was we weren't aware of who was listening in on our conversations. I still remember the look that Mrs. Robinson gave me as we got back into the classroom. I thought to myself, Please don't tell my parents (I was a pastor's kid).
In the passage from Mark, there is a lot of symbolism here that we must not miss. This is a passage that I think we skip over some and concentrate on this vision of Jesus who loses his temper in the temple and begins flipping over tables. There is a reason that this story of Jesus in the temple is bookended by the fig tree, and for this devotional, this is where I would like to concentrate. What is going on here? I mean, this seems to be a weird story, doesn't it? Jesus is going for a walk with his friends, gets hungry, and goes up to a tree that is not in season yet. When he doesn't find any fruit, he says "May no one ever eat fruit from you again" (v. 14) and later, we see that the "fig tree withered from the roots" (v. 20). There is a powerful image here that we must pair with Jesus cleansing the temple.
For ancient Israel, the fig tree was a rather important symbol. The land that God gave to the Israelites was obviously plentiful, flowing with milk and honey. It was a blessed land that produced delicious fruit, one of which was the fig. I honestly don't know if I have ever eaten a fig, but this fruit tree became a symbol of the nation of Israel, representing national pride and prosperity. Think of a bald eagle for America- that is what the fig tree was to Israel. What is interesting is that the fig tree had lots of leaves, but was not bearing any fruit. Since it did not bear fruit, Jesus curses the fig tree, which turns out to be the only destructive miracle that Jesus performed in his life. Mark wants us to see Jesus cleansing the temple in the context of the fig tree.
I believe that a large part of what is going on here is Jesus catching Israel bearing no fruit. They have been caught in the act by God himself. Jesus shows up in the temple and sees that they are all show (lots of leaves), but they are not actually producing fruit as God intended. I want us to pay attention this week to how often the texts for Holy Week bring us back to the beginning- the garden. After Adam and Eve sinned and realized they were naked, what did they do? They "sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (Gen. 3:7, emphasis mine). I mean...c'mon, right? This tree, covered in leaves, was bearing no fruit. In the same way, the people of God were caught covering themselves with religious activity but not displaying true devotion to God. They thought that they were chosen by God to worship him in the temple, when actually they were chosen to be in communion with the Creator of the world and to be a "kingdom of priests," making the temple a "house of prayer for all nations," not "a house of prayer for the Israelites."
Jesus brings us back to the garden, cursing the fig tree and cleansing the temple, to say that we need to push the restart button on this whole thing. They were caught by Jesus in their pride and superiority, excluding people from temple worship. Their own religiosity made it as difficult as possible for others to come to God. So, Jesus says, listen, this is what is going on here- there is no faith! If you would stop making it about yourselves and make it about me, you have no idea what kind of mountains you could move. Love God, love others.
I wonder about us. Do we need to return to the garden and start over? Has our own religious devotion become a stumbling block for unbelievers to come to Christ? Do we want to be found by Jesus to be covered in leaves but bearing no fruit?
God, help us.
Pastors Jared and Jerrica