I was busy today and chose to comment only on the Gospel of Mark. The headline is there to remind me of the world.
13 And seeing from afar off a fig-tree which had leaves, he came, if perhaps he might find something on it. And having come up to it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the time of figs.
14 And answering he said to it, Let no one eat fruit of thee any more for ever. And his disciples heard it.
15 And they come to Jerusalem, and entering into the temple, he began to cast out those who sold and who bought in the temple, and he overthrew the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dove-sellers,
16 and did not allow that any one should carry any package through the temple.
17 And he taught saying to them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but you have made it a den of robbers.
18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and they sought how they might destroy him; for they feared him, because all the crowd were astonished at his doctrine.
19 And when it was evening he went forth outside the city.
20 And passing by early in the morning they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots.
21 And Peter, remembering, says to him, Rabbi, see, the fig-tree which you cursed is dried up.
22 And Jesus answering says to them, Have faith in God.
23 Amen I say to you, that whoever shall say to this mountain, Be taken away and cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but believe that what he says takes place, whatever he shall say shall come to pass for him.
24 For this reason I say to you, All things whatever you pray for and ask, believe that you receive it, and it shall happen for you.
Mark has Jesus perform an acted parable: he sees a fig-tree without fruit (although it’s just the springtime) and curses it. Then he revisits the Temple which is the holy place of his people’s religion, where the fruits of divine goodness might be expected. Instead he finds corruption and the court of the Gentiles, where non-Jews might worship, full of religious commerce. It has not been fruitful in making its God available to non-Jews. He emphasises in his teaching that it is meant to be a house of prayer “for all nations.” The next day they find that the fig tree has shrivelled. Jesus is identifying the fig tree with the temple religion, which, he suggests, is already withered beyond rescue. Some might have argued that the temple religion was like the spring fig-tree and would in time produce fruit. Jesus says, no, it’s dead.
It’s interesting to guess that Jesus’ action might have been seen as an intervention on behalf of Gentiles. Yes, there was a court for Gentiles but many Jews believed it was a symbol of the “latter days” the end time, in which the Gentiles would flow to the mountain of the Lord (Micah: 4). Jesus may have been saying: the latter days, the time of the kingdom has arrived!
The mountain Jesus refers to in verse 23 is not any old mountain but is Zion, the temple mountain, destroyed by the Romans around the time Mark was writing. This gives us a clue as to how to apply Jesus words about prayer; he’s talking about obstacles to God’s rule, and his teaching means: “act as if the obstacle were not there”, just as he acted in relation to the temple establishment. We can of course expand this teaching to other situations, but it seems to me that “obstacles to the kingdom” is its primary point of reference. I can testify that when I have been able, along with others, to act on tihis principle, more was possible than I had imagined.
I have failed to comment before on Jesus’ habit of solemn speech prefaced by the word Amen. This is reported by all the gospel writers. It is an Aramaic word indicating profound agreement, used for example as the church uses it, at the end of prayers, meaning, “Yes, may it be so.” To use it at the beginning of an utterance may mean, “Pay attention! For this statement has already been confirmed (by God’s spirit)”. He is indicating that what he is saying is a fulfilment of God’s purpose, revealed in either in prophecy, or from within his own relationship with the Father. St. Paul may have been thinking of this habit of speech when he called Jesus, the “Yes and Amen to all the promises of God.”