Tuesday 29 November 2011

Bible Book:

"In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again!' And the fig tree withered at once." (vv. 18-19)

Matthew 21:12-22 Tuesday 29 November 2011


It's not surprising when I get home from a long day's work andcurse the fridge for being empty. But I am human, and likely toblame the fridge for my own lack of organisation. My family andfriends will tell you that grumpiness is a reliable indication thatI'm hungry.

But would we really expect the same of Jesus? Was it unreasonablefor him to curse the tree for being fruitless when, as in Mark'sversion of the story (Mark11:12-14), it wasn't even the season for figs?

However, perhaps the stories that challenge our perceptions ofJesus are especially important, because they tell us something thatwe don't instinctively know about him. Today's passage isundoubtedly a weird one, and the situation clearly puzzled thedisciples as much as it puzzles us today, so what can we learn fromit?

The fig tree has an important place in the Bible - it crops up morethan 30 times. In the Old Testament, having your own fig tree was asign of prosperity and wealth - the tribe of Israel was told offigs growing in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:8). But the image of a fig treewas also used to symbolise the nation of Israel as God's chosenpeople (as in Joel 2:21-25). This image would have resonatedwith the author and readers of Matthew's Gospel. So we know thatthis story is not just about fruit or a tree, or even Jesus beinggrumpy and hungry after a day's work.

It's also important to look at where the story sits in the Gospels.In Matthew it comes just after the 'cleansing of the temple' (thefirst part of today's reading), where Jesus drove out thestore-holders and money-changers from the temple. In Mark's Gospel,the story precedes the cleansing of the temple. In a land underRoman occupation, the temple was the supreme symbol of Israel'snational identity and (almost literally) the home of their God.Jesus hoped to find 'fruitful' worship at the temple but was sorelydisappointed and we see that symbolically acted out with a literalfig tree, much to the disciples' puzzlement. In the withering ofthe tree we also see the withering of the teaching and authority ofthe chief priests and scribes due to their lack of truefaith.

But there's another important dimension to this story - Jesus hintsat his true identity as the Son of God by demonstrating the powerhe wields over nature. But, more than that, he assures hisdisciples that their own faithful prayers can be just aspowerful.

To Ponder

What stories about Jesus surprise you? How do youdeal with the things that seem out of character from the Jesus youknow and love?

Do you trust in the power of your own prayers?What difference do you think it would make if you trusted themmore?

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