Friday, June 03, 2011

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree - A Contemplation

This is a "contemplation" on Mark 11 and Matthew 21, the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree on the road between Bethany and Jerusalem. I have tried to remain true to the text, but have tried to picture what it might have been like. I follow the chronology of Mark, as I outline here.

John and I were walking and talking with the other ten, behind Jesus. We didn't want to bother him as it seemed he had much on his mind. We were going back to Jerusalem from Bethany, where we had spent the night.

We spoke of how Jesus had been received the previous morning. The palm branches, the "Hosannas." It had been so wonderful! Jesus was going to be king! But we also remembered Jesus talking about suffering and dying in Jerusalem. But that seemed so unlikely now. Didn't the crowd's happy welcome prove that? Maybe He would die after a long reign? But how could that be? Wasn't the Messiah to remain forever?

With the rising sun still low in the eastern sky, the dust puffing at our footsteps was still cool on our feet, and we shared our deep thoughts as we looked down at our feet, which were quickly gathering dust.

But then, from the corner of my eye, I saw Jesus step through the grass and brush on the edge of the road and walk toward a tree a short distance away.

I glanced over. I could see it was a fig tree. I recognized the big, bright green leaves.

"Does anyone want a fig?" I asked.

"No," Thomas said. "There might be a few figs, but it is not really the season yet. Probably just early-figs now, and I don't really like them."

We walked on past, still engrossed in our talk, as Jesus pushed leaves aside and searched for something to eat.

Then I heard him say, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" and the crunching sound of His feet on the drying grass as He came back to the road behind us.

I guessed that he hadn't found anything, figs or early-figs, and if there were no early-figs, then later there would be no figs at all. Pretty worthless tree.

He soon caught up with us and led us in to Jerusalem, to the Temple, which was full of men buying and selling in the courtyard. Jesus chased them out and spent the day arguing with the chief priests and teachers.

We left Jerusalem that evening after dusk, very tired; the stars were out as we passed the fig tree on our way to Bethany and I did't give it a glance or a thought.

But in the morning as we returned to Jerusalem, Peter cried out, "Rabbi, behold! The fig tree which you cursed has withered."

I hadn't even noticed, but now we looked. The tree was so different that I didn't think it was the same tree, but as I looked to the left and right I realized it was where the living tree had been yesterday, and there was no other fig tree around. There, by the side of the road in the bright morning sun, was the fig tree, dead, its branches and broad leaves a crackly brown. It had to be the same one.

I walked over, took a leaf in my hand and pressed it. It crumbled. I snapped a branch. It was dusty dry.

Jesus watched from the road as we gathered around the tree, then, as we we walked back, He held up his hand. We stopped and looked at Him.

“Have faith in God," he said. "Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him."

We stared at Jesus for a moment, taken aback, for who except Jesus has faith like that?

Not I. At least... not very often, though as I think about it there have been times when I have had such faith - not by trying hard to have it, but when the spirit of God has been upon me and I knew without effort and without a doubt - and then I did indeed receive what I requested.

No comments: