The joys of being a bible editor! Imagine sitting there in prayerful reflection, surrounded by texts, immersed in Hebrew, Greek, dialects, commentaries, head full of words and context, facts and figures, all that “stuff” of godly academia … And then it is time for the “sub headings” and …
“Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Clears the Temple Courts”
(time for a tea-break – job done for today)
In my new role as a trainee-preacher, I am being exposed to “resources”. Resources are those things that bring “show and tell” to a service. That catch peoples’ interest because the Living Word is not interesting enough. There are times I feel as though I am being trained to be a party performer – because churches nowadays seem incapable of “doing a service” without all the electronic-wizardry that was once reserved for big concerts, buzzing tv studios, and any showbiz “extravaganza” – and is now the weekly standard wherever “two or more are gathered in My name”.
“Jesus curses a fig tree” has never sat well with me.
Cursing is on the “tut tut” list for good Christians. As is taking out your bad temper on a harmless fig tree. As is being in a temper at all. BUT .. when the tree is not even in season for fruiting … and you take out your bad temper on this innocent wonder of nature … and you curse as well … and you show NO remorse at all …!!! Well that is not in any book of “How To Be a Good Christian” that I have ever read.
Surely this would be the time to do the “take him aside and correct his thinking” and if that did not work – then sadly “we must move to ejecting this miscreant” before he infects the rest of us. So how come Jesus is exempt? And how come I am not?
“Jesus curses a fig tree”
Loads of stuff gets written about why Jesus was not really cursing anything that day. Loads of stuff gets written linking these verses with other verses to explain why Jesus should not be expelled at all!
Kind of like: Paul, the tree was just another “resources” – it happened to be there that day. It is a teaching tool. One dead tree is the same as one of our sexy powerpoint slides. Nothing to get hung up about. Your are just finding complications for the sake of it. I suggest you read …
Really … ?
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. Mark 11:12-14
Twenty four hours later …
In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” Mark 11:20-21
And two words in these verses jump out with a sledgehammer and play a beat in my brain: “Peter remembered”
Now I have a dodgy memory. But Jesus cursing – Jesus killing an innocent tree – “And his disciples heard him say it.” – seems to be the kind of thing so easily forgotten in a normal day with Jesus (if that is how it really happened ) – or else why those two words: “Peter remembered”?
Because even with all the temple kerfuffle – all that “wham-bam-get-out-of-here-Sam table-turning” … even with all of that … I think that Jesus “cursing” an innocent tree might be something I pondered rather than “forgot” in 24 hours.
Because 2000+ years later it still puzzles me. And no matter how many interpretations and commentaries I read – killing a tree as a “learning aid” has never made any sense to me. Nor has the “Jesus curses a fig tree” sub-heading that we all accept.
Because if Jesus curses – why can’t I? Because if it didn’t really register with the disciples – why can’t I? Because if the bible editors thought cursing was okay – why can’t I? And as we all happily accept that heading in every bible we read – why can’t we all curse as well?
But then I ponder “slavery” and Jesus’ absence of condemnation. I ponder so much of what we think is “not okay” and which Jesus seemed to endorse or not mention at all. And it seems to me more and more that we need it all written out in black and white. That we need our rule-book updated and revised for every new generation. Just like our lawmakers – more new clauses and sub-clauses to cover each new “issue”.
(even as we preach and teach how Jesus fulfilled the law, as we teach that we now have a new covenant that is greater than “the law”. Even as we walk in faith – why is it that we still need every question mark erased with an explanation that we can “get”)
My learning in these verses is that I may never know. My learning is that I will always have more questions than answers when it comes to living and loving. My learning is that God is no more understood by me than “why the chair I am sitting on” as I type these words “has more space than solid”. Because this chair I am sitting on “works” (or else I would be on the floor looking a little surprised right now). So I don’t need “to get” every detail of “the science of more space than solid”.
Which make me question why we seem to “need” to get God in every last detail – even more than we need to get every last detail of “science”. Because what is “faith” and “belief” other than NOT having all the answers to everything? Like science.
Which makes wonder yet again –
Are we turning “faith in God” into “the science of god”? And are we seeking out and listening more and more to those who can “prove” what Jesus meant in every last utterance? Usually with all the “resources” that make “show and tell” really good fun. And might that mean we are listening less and less to the indwelling God we gave our lives to? And is that “faith”?
And just why is “gave our lives” almost always said in the past-tense?