The Fig Tree and Hope

Jesus curses the fig tree, cleanses the Temple, finds the fig tree withered and gives his disciples hope for the future. Jesus said to them in reply, “Have faith in God.
Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,
‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’
and does not doubt in his heart
but believes that what he says will happen,
it shall be done for him.
Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer,
believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.
When you stand to pray,
forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance,
so that your heavenly Father may in turn
forgive you your transgressions.” (Mk 11: 22-26)
The cursing of the fig tree which bookends the cleansing of the Temple is enigmatic, to say the least. Mark clearly says that it was not time for the tree to bear fruit but Jesus curses it anyway. It this the culmination of Luke’s story of the fig tree that was given one more chance and failed nonetheless (like Israel)? Possibly.
It is more likely that the cursing of the tree linked as it is to the Temple scene has great symbolic value. The tree is withered to the roots as is the Temple cult which Jesus seeks to reform.
Jeremias tells us that the Temple was the economic center of Jerusalem. The house of God had been turned into a den of thieves. Money changers profited off the people who came for afar. They had to have their money changed into Temple money—at a commission. Mark also points out the doves, the sacrifice of the poor, the oppressed.
Jesus is challenging the ruling powers. In effect, especially with the lesson on faith that follows, He is setting himself up as the Liberator, the Messiah. The debt and purity codes which have oppressed his people are to be replaced.
The reign of God will replace the Temple cult and it turns everything upside down. The last shall be first. The poor and hungry and thirsty shall be nourished. The homeless shall be sheltered. The sick shall be consoled. The prisoners shall be visited and rehabilitated. Debts shall be cancelled. The least among us shall have new life. The poor is spirit shall dwell in the reign of God. The people who mourn shall be comforted. Every tear shall be wiped away.
The vision of the reign of God is our hope amid the violence, exploitation, oppression and greed that surrounds us. It is a vision of hope in a world of violence and exploitation. It is not fully realized; however, Jesus tells us that we must have faith. It takes a great deal of faith to hope that the dominative patterns of our world which cause so much human misery will be overthrown by the reign of God.
Whatever we ask in prayer will be ours. As activists for peace and justice, we must first of all be contemplative people. Pope Benedict XVI in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, tells us that the Jesus who is cleansing the Temple and ushering in the reign of God is the New Moses. Jesus goes aside on a regular basis to be with the Father. He has seen the face of God. He shows us the Father. He shows us the very face of God—love, mercy, forgiveness, peace, justice, compassion. Wow! Realizing this we can pray and pray fervently. We can go aside and listen intently to the Father. We will then know with Juliana of Norwich that “All is well and all will be well.”

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