This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
LIGHTS GOING OUT ON VENEZUELAN LEADER?
Power cut in Venezuela
New English Translation (NET)
Cleansing the Temple
12 Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!”
14 The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.
The Withered Fig Tree
18 Now early in the morning, as he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 After noticing a fig tree by the road he went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. He said to it, “Never again will there be fruit from you!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.
The one who rules for God comes to his temple and clears it of religious commerce. Doubtless the temple authorities, like many of the custodians of our Cathedrals, would have protested to Jesus that the upkeep of the temple required the profits of the traders. Mark quotes the same verse of scripture adding the concluding words, “for all nations” which Matthew omits, possibly because he sees the temple as irrelevant to his community. “The blind and lame came to him,” -in these words Matthew asserts that the purpose of the holy place and its God, is healing; throughout this gospel the restoration of human health is one of the primary purposes of Jesus’ mission.
Jesus’ defence of the children as given by Matthew is significant in that he applies a verse about the praise of God to himself, as the Messiah. We may think of any identification of Jesus and God, however obliquely expressed, as a development within early Christianity, but it seems likely that saw himself or at least his mission, as integral to God’s presence in the world.
The episode of the fig tree seems likely to have been an “action parable” of Jesus, pointing to Israel as a barren tree which has produced no fruit for God. Matthew however also sees it as a miracle of faith which can be an example to Jesus’ followers.
Verse 22, may represent some original saying of Jesus, but as it stands it’s a nonsense which has led many sincere people to despair. It is simply not true that sincere prayer is rewarded by God doing what has been asked. It’s an insult to the faith of those who have prayed for the life, for example, of their child, to assert the truth of verse 22. “Ask, and you will receive” is a much better way of encouraging prayer, for in faith we always do receive, although we may not receive what we have asked for. That may seem not very different from verse 22, but in fact it’s an enabling command, whereas verse 22 is as it stands, a false promise. The gap between our prayer and what happens is what separates faith from magic. Magic is making God do what we want; faith is doing what God wants with what happens in our lives.