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
Mark 11:20-13:37 //////// Shema
This past year has been really difficult for a lot of people. It has been approximately a year before our vocabulary was expanded to include words and phrases like "quarantine," "global pandemic," "non-essential," "mask mandate," and "national state of emergency." Suddenly, everything shut down as we were asked to "slow the spread" by staying home. As a result, churches shut down, businesses closed the doors, and people sheltered in place for a while. I believe that the effects of the virus have yet to become fully realized. Many of us have lost loved ones to the CoViD-19 pandemic. Some have still not ventured out much, and we still have to wear masks everywhere we go for the foreseeable future.
Out of this monumental and unprecedented year, there were a lot of talks about what is essential and what is not. We learned that toilet paper is the most essential thing for most people! I still remember that first time we went to the grocery store after the pandemic started, seeing the empty aisles where toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies used to find their homes. I heard one pastor joke about the essential nature of toilet paper revealed, calling shopping at the store a "game of thrones." Forget oil, forget gold, forget money, we need TP!
There has been a lot of discussion across the country about what is most important for us. The church is no exception. For the church, we have also been challenged with examining our priorities. When the church can't have church on Sundays, what do we do? In many ways, this has been a really healthy question. There has been an increasing influence on church identity, realizing that church is a people and not a place to go once a week. We have had some tough discussions, including a recognition that maybe we have been doing this all wrong all along. Remember yesterday's devotional? CoViD-19 has provided the church with a giant reset button. However, we still must answer the questions: what is most important for us today? Can we go back to the way things were pre-CoViD? What is essential for the church?
It is in this way that I think the words of Jesus echo for us today. Jesus tells us what is most essential: "'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no greater commandment greater than these.'"
There is a lot in the texts for today as we continue our journey with Jesus to the cross. Jesus has entered Jerusalem, the central hub of Jewish culture and worship on Sunday. Yesterday, we looked at Jesus cursing the fig tree and cleansing the temple, which I'm sure angered a lot of people. In today's reading, we have several instances of the religious leaders pushing back against Jesus's authority. Several different groups of leaders come to him several times and question him, trying to trap him in his words. They ask him about the authority that he acts under, they ask him about paying taxes, they ask him about resurrection, and they ask him about the Law of Moses. Jesus doesn't sugarcoat things- he tells a parable that explains how terrible the "chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders" have been. In 12:38-40, Jesus outwardly speaks against the religious leaders in the city. Finally, in chapter 13, Jesus begins to teach about the end times.
For me, the focus of this section of scripture comes in the final test that the teachers of the law brought before Jesus. They come to him and ask him an impossible question: "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (12:28). This is a difficult question because the teachers of the law stressed the importance of following all of the law, not just parts of it. So, Jesus, out of the 613 laws of Moses, which one is most important for us to obey?