This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
12-14 On the following day, when they had left Bethany, Jesus felt hungry. He noticed a fig-tree in the distance covered with leaves, and he walked up to it to see if he could find any fruit on it. But when he got to it, he could find nothing but leaves, for it was not yet time for the figs. Then Jesus spoke to the tree, “May nobody ever eat fruit from you!” And the disciples heard him say it.
15-17 Then they came into Jerusalem and Jesus went into the Temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of the dove-sellers, and he would not allow people to carry their water-pots through the Temple. And he taught them and said, “Doesn’t the scripture say, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?’. But you have turned it into a ‘den of thieves!’”
18-19 The chief priests and scribes heard him say this and tried to find a way of getting rid of him. But they were in fact afraid of him, for his teaching had captured the imagination of the people. And every evening he left the city.
Jesus talks of faith, prayer and forgiveness
20-21 One morning as they were walking along, they noticed that the fig-tree had withered away to the roots. Peter remembered it, and said, “Master, look, the fig-tree that you cursed is all shrivelled up!”
22-26 “Have faith in God,” replied Jesus to them. “I tell you that if anyone should say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself into the sea’, and without any doubt in his heart believe that what he says will happen, then it will happen! That is why I tell you, whatever you pray about and ask for, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, you must forgive anything that you are holding against anyone else, and your Heavenly Father will forgive you your sins.”
This story is typical of Mark’s oblique style of narration: even a tiny incident or saying has hidden depths. Here the incident of the fig tree frames Jesus’ visit to the Temple where he crucially declares that it is meant to be “a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS” (The traders operated in the Court of the Gentiles). His judgement on the corrupted religion of his people is expressed not only in these words,which point to God’s intention of including Gentile nations, but also in his cursing of the fig which has produced no fruit and must therefore die. The reader may protest that it was only springtime and not harvest, but Jesus sees beyond the present flourishing of the temple to the time of judgement. This makes the episode of the fig a prophetic action, such as those performed by Jeremiah. Or, we may say, by those who wrote the book of Jeremiah, for this is first of all a literary device, used to tell the reader the meaning of the story. Mark is telling the reader that Jesus’ activity in the Temple signals God’s judgement on it and its inevitable end. By the time Mark wrote his gospel, the Temple had been destroyed by the Romans.
Mark also wants to show the dull response of Peter who sees the fig tree episode as a show of miraculous power. Jesus teaches that it’s all a matter of trust in God. The whole of Mount Zion could be removed by God, not just the Temple! The words about praying and believing you already have received God’s provision, are to be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ ministry, through which the future rule of God happens in the world. Jesus has lived tomorrow’s life today, and his disciples can do the same. True justice and true goodness, usually reserved for the “day of God” can be anticipated by those who share Jesus’ trust in God, and made real now. But the way into this transforming trust in God is forgiving those who have wronged you and the readiness to receive forgiveness for your own sins.
Mark’s whole gospel suggests, by its structure and language, that the things predicted for the “end time” happen in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus: the judgement is here, the end of the old world has arrived, and a new world has begun, for those who trust the way and word of Jesus. But all this happens for the moment under the sign of contradiction, which is the cross, the apparent victory of the old over the new, evil over goodness. That’s why faith begins with forgiveness.
Coming to grips with Mark’s gospel pushes the reader into confronting the ultimate questions of human life, while anchoring her firmly to a world in which drug companies bribe doctors and advocates of justice are often killed.
Can I believe that goodness can happen through me and that it can transform the world? Mark says yes.