The Fig Tree and The Temple | Daily Office Devotional 2021/8/16

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’

Mark 11:12-26

The sequence of happenings and sayings in the passage may seem odd at first glance. It is as if disparate elements have been forced together into a narrative by the Evangelist. Structurally, the temple cleansing incident is bookended by the account of Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree. This means the latter provides an interpretive framework for the former. Without getting into the complexities, here’s a simple summary of this passage:

Jesus, is the prophesied Messiah (King) and he has now come at the appointed time to Israel. However, he has examined the state of God’s people and found them to be lacking (“he found nothing but leaves”). When he entered the outer court of the temple set apart for Gentiles (non-Jews) to gather, he did not find find a “house of prayer for all the nations.” Instead, he found a market place for money-changing and the buying and selling of sacrificial animals where profiteering was rife (“a den of robbers”).

This particular situation reflected the state of the leadership in Jerusalem in general; it seemed that the leaders of God’s people—the chief priests and the scribes—had failed to produce fruits of righteousness meant to reveal God’s glory to the world and draw all nations to himself. They had given the place meant for the Gentiles to seek God over to profane commerce, demonstrating how little they cared about them (or even detested them as unclean persons). So Jesus condemned the leaders with prophetic language from Isaiah 56.7 and Jeremiah 7.11, indicating that there would be divine judgment for their failure to produce the fruits required of them.

Since the temple had become an edifice of ethnocentrism that separated the Jews from the Gentiles and kept the latter away from God, it would no longer hold further significance in the economy of faith. It was subsequently destroyed in 70 A.D. God’s people, whether Jews or Gentiles, would relate directly to him in a relationship established by faith and forgiveness. As long as one had faith, one could—hyperbolically speaking—remove mountains. (And with the benefit of hindsight, we know that relationship is established through the atoning work of Jesus who is now the ultimate place of mediation between God and humanity.)

While the passage pertains to the situation of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, it remains relevant to the church today. Is our local church a “house of prayer for all the nations,” inclusive and welcoming of all who desire to encounter God? Have we made the local church into a “den of robbers,” fixated on the things of the world, squabbling over personal agendas, or majoring on minor issues unrelated to the good news of Jesus? May God help us remain obedient to his mission of reaching “the nations” and find us faithful when his Son comes again.

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