April 18, 2011

that poor fig tree

Monday in Holy Week - Mark 11:12-19

There have been times in my life when I have, very rightfully, been accused of projecting my stress, frustration, anger, etc. toward something or someone that did not deserve my wrath.  I'm certain that I'm not the only one who does this. It seems like a pretty standard human coping mechanism.  When the stresses of work get too great, and you can't flip out on a co-worker or your boss, you are mean to the Starbucks barista. When every check stand at the grocery store is stacked 4 deep, your cart has 3 items in it, the person in front of you in the express lane has two carts full, and your child asks you for candy, you lose your temper at the poor kid.

What? I'm the only one?


A lot of ink has been spilled on Jesus' rather odd encounter with the fig tree. Matthew and Mark both give us this strange event.  In Matthew, the fig tree withers right away, but in Mark, the Gospel of choice for our parish this Holy Week, we don't see the "fruit" of Jesus' curse until the next day (and we learn a second lesson from it, I think, two chapters later).

Looking at Mark's version and its context in the whole week, I have to think that Jesus' wrath is in some way unnecessarily transferred to the poor fig tree. He's come into the Holy City on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna, only to look into the Temple court and feel his heart break within his chest.  Nothing is as God intended. The sacrifice is the object of worship. The rules are keeping the poor enslaved to the Temple authorities.  Nobody is worshiping the one true God.

As the rag-tag group makes its way back to the Temple on Monday morning, Jesus is still angry. He knows that he's gonna pitch a fit, and maybe is afraid of all that power he possesses.  Best not kill everyone with a fiery rain of sulfur, so he takes the first swing of his wrath at a fig-tree that had no business having fruit that morning anyway.  Better to kill it than to destroy the Temple, or punch out a high priest, or something.

It is helpful for me and my faith to see Jesus as very much a human being at this moment.  This week, that by now he has to know will be his last, is going to be hard. Lots of stress, lots of confrontation, lots of emotions, and Jesus experiences all of that.  As I look ahead to a busy week, thinking about all the turmoil in lives right around me, my prayer is one of thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for being a human being, it takes a lot of the pressure off me to not have to be a god.

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