Early in the morning as Jesus was returning to the city, he was hungry. He saw a fig tree along the road, but when he came to it, he found nothing except leaves. Then he said to it,“You’ll never again bear fruit!” The fig tree dried up at once.
When the disciples saw it, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree dry up so fast?” they asked.
Jesus responded, “I assure you that if you have faith and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree. You will even say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the lake.’ And it will happen. If you have faith, you will receive whatever you pray for.”
You may have noticed that this isn’t the passage for today’s Gospel reading. The passage in the lectionary for today is supposed to be John 12:9-19. But that’s the same reading we had yesterday, more or less. It’s John’s take on the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem (with the customary Johannine twist, of course).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; now and then I just don’t understand why the Lectionary is cut up like it is. Oh, I’m sure there’s a reason for it. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to me. And this is one of those times.
So, I thought why not do something a little different and follow the Orthodox’s readings for Holy Week? Sure they’re early (Holy Week for them doesn’t begin until the last week of April with Easter being on 5 May).
So, what do we do with Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree? Well, it actually ties back to the ride into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple. In Matthew’s telling of the story, Jesus rides into the city, strolls through the Temple and leaves. The next day, on the way back to the Temple, he curses the tree. The tree, in both tellings of the story, is a poetic image of Jerusalem in general and the Temple specifically.
Just as when he arrived at the tree and was expecting it to be bearing fruit, Jesus “came to his own” expecting them to be producing fruit. And just like the tree, he found none in Jerusalem (think about all of the people that didn’t have faith; of how the Roman had more faith than anyone in Israel). The “cleansing of the Temple” is paralleled with the “cursing of the fig tree.” They are both pointing to the oncoming storm - the war with Rome.
But there’s also the element of faith in this passage. The followers of Jesus, some of his closest friends, are astonished at what just happened (do these people keep forgetting things - the calming of storms, the multiplication of food, the raising of the dead, etc.). Jesus said, “If you have faith, you will have whatever you pray for.”
Is that accurate?
I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of people who have faith and their prayers go unanswered. How many of us have sat with someone we love and watch life be sucked out of them? I’m sure we’ve all sat there praying for a miracle that never comes.
So how can Jesus be so flippant to say that?
Maybe he’s not being flippant. Maybe we’re the ones being flippant. That is, maybe we’re not taking The Way of Jesus seriously. I think that’s the key. Maybe if we were living like Christ, I mean in the complete sacrificial sense with a unshakable trust in G_d and service to others and always putting their needs before our own, then maybe we would have that type of faith. Maybe if we loved G_d, ourselves, our neighbors, and our enemies with G_d’s Love, then faith would come. And while I think we are capable of that type of faith (and life), there aren’t too many of us who live that way; are that way.
This is where the lives of the saints come in. There were other people, people just like us, who walked The Way before us - Patrick, Brigid, Columba, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Peace Pilgrim, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, etc. There are people who lay day their lives for the sake of G_d’s Realm. Their faith and actions point to a way of being that is not foreign to us but who we are at the deepest level. It takes that type of trust and action to lead to that type of faith.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC