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March 5 | Mark 11:12-25


 

DAILY READING

 

REFLECTION


The Facade of the Cursed Fig Tree

by Mary Kate Hipp


I figure I am not the only one who has wondered about Jesus' episode of rage after the triumphal entry. Sorry, I had to slip that pun in there somewhere... but really, what is happening here? Is Jesus hangry?* Is he having a temple... mean, temper tantrum?


We first read about the seemingly fine fig tree Jesus cursed. As verse 13 tells us, it was not yet the season for figs, so why is Jesus cursing a tree that bears no fruit? At this time of year, edible figs were still about six weeks away, but the bland fruit should have already appeared. These were the early figs that preceded the main crop of edible figs. If only leaves appeared, devoid of early inedible figs, the tree would bear no fruit. (cf. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament 157). This curse was not merely highlighting the hunger of Jesus. Jesus was illustrating that trees which only pretend to bear fruit are altogether cursed. (Jeremiah 24) The leaves of the tree are a facade. The flipping of tables in the temple further illustrates this point.


It was not inherently wrong for people to exchange money or offerings in the temple. Currencies varied throughout the region and the service to exchange currencies and offerings was helpful to pilgrims. In the context of this excerpt, many Jewish people would have made a pilgrimage around this time to the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover. The issue at hand is not whether it was valid to exchange money at the table but whether it was valid to turn much of the outer court into a place emphasizing commerce to the detriment of worship. The money changers and temple goers perverted what was meant for good, and taken it too far—so much so that it disrupted the place of worship and inhibited the temple from "bearing fruit."


Interestingly, Mark placed these stories together. Jesus sees the tree that has leaves but no fruit—a tree that looks nice, but bears no fruit—and curses it. Seems odd. But then we read how he enters the temple, a building that looks beautiful. A building which was intended to tend the soil of our faith, to produce faith, yet he walks in to see a fruitless people. The temple was outwardly beautiful and outwardly impressive, yet full of impurities, so he cleansed it.


Jesus looks not for outward righteousness or good looks. Nor does he look for someone who prays using lofty words, gives the most money, or gives up the most for Lent. He cares not about the facade we wear. Jesus cares only about our inward righteousness. Are we earnestly seeking the Lord? Or are we earnestly seeking the Law? Are we merely outwardly righteous?


To bear this fruit, this inward righteousness, we need the Spirit. We cannot be inwardly righteous by our own accord. It is a gift of the Spirit, given not so that we might boast. Have faith in God. Set aside your facade of righteousness and submit to the Lord.


Cleanse our hearts and know us, O Lord.


*HANGRY: a term that combines the words "hungry" and "angry" to describe the cranky and angry behavior one might have due to hunger.

*Picture from temple steps in Jerusalem


PRAYER

Cleanse our hearts and know us, O Lord. Are we like that of a fig tree? Or that of the temple? Have we taken to follow the letter of the law more than your living Word? May we cling to you, O Righteous one. We long to be made holy as you are holy. Amen.







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The story of the cursed fig tree has baffled me for years. Thank you for your explanation and how you connected it to the temple. You are so right that it is what that is inside each of us, not our outwardly appearance or outwardly done deeds that makes a difference to God. Your devotion is right on point and excellently done. I appreciate the education I received today.

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