Thoughts for Wednesday 16th September, 2020

Psalm 77; 2 Kings 2:1-18; Mark 11:20-25


Wednesday 16 September


Sorry, but I have been unable to provide a hyperlink for the readings today.


I want to focus, though, on our New Testament reading. A while ago I dodged any consideration of this passage, for the reason that it constitutes one of the most problematic moments for us in the whole of Matthew (21:18-20), as well as here in Mark. For, why would Jesus act in such a destructive way? Luke, in 13:6-9, chooses to have a parable instead: The ‘Parable of the Unfruitful Fig Tree’, which (in the same way that Jesus had spent three years teaching and healing people up until this time, and still the situation was much the same) seems to be saying, ‘let’s try for one more year, and then we may see some results.’


Matthew and Mark are different, and the obvious answer to the question, ‘Why?’, is, as Jesus seems to be saying, in order to demonstrate the power of prayer. But there’s a whole lot more going on, I think.


In Matthew, Jesus has – just the previous day (Palm Sunday) – been into the Temple, and cleansed its courtyard. In Mark, he is just about to do that. And so, what Jesus is doing, it seems to me, is to make a statement about the religious authorities there. Who, mature like the branches of the fig tree he curses, ought to be ‘providing figs’ i.e. food for the people to eat, as well as all sorts of other ‘fruitfulness’; that’s their job. And yet what they are doing is the exact opposite, by helping themselves to the people’s offerings instead.


What Jesus does then, I believe, to be a demonstration, not so much of the power of prayer at all, but of judgment instead on all the priests and the Pharisees, the scribes and the scholars, whose job it is to look after the people, but who don’t.


There is, however, even more going on than that. For, in Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ at Matthew 7:11, Jesus has already warned people about ‘false prophets’; who we are able to know by what they do, he says; for, ‘Briars do not bear figs’ (= Luke 6:44)! This destructive act then is not just a condemnation of the religious leadership of Israel who can be found in the Temple, but as a reference to Jothan’s ‘Story of the Bramble-King’ which can be found in Judges 9, this is a condemnation of Jerusalem and Israel (and Roman) political leadership as well.


Let us pray:


(and our prayer today is a story)


The Emperor and the Old Man


Once upon a time the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, was passing through the streets of Tiberias on the shores of Lake Galilee in the Holy Land, when he noticed a very old man planting a fig tree. ‘But why,’ Hadrian asked, ‘are you planting this tree? For surely you are so old that you can never hope to eat figs from this tree. It will take far too long for it to grow and to mature and to produce fruit.’


‘In my youth I worked,’ said the man, ‘and I will continue to work, and with God's good pleasure, maybe I will eat the fruit of this tree for I am in God’s hands.’


‘Tell me your age?’ said the emperor.


‘I have lived for a hundred years,’ said the man.


‘A hundred years old, and you still expect to eat from the fruit of this tree. Well,’ said the emperor, ‘if you do then please, I would like to hear of it.’


And the old man did live long enough when, remembering the Emperor's words, he visited him, taking a small basket filled with the choicest figs from the tree. He told the Palace guard his purpose, and giving the Emperor his gift, Hadrian was so pleased with the man’s good fortune that he emptied the man's basket of its figs and ordered it to be filled with gold coins sending the man on his way back home.


Now, next door to this man there lived a woman who, when she heard of her neighbour's good fortune, she thought her husband might take the Emperor a gift of figs as well and have it replaced by coins. So, she filled for him a very large basket indeed, and bid him put it on his shoulder saying, ‘Now carry it to the Emperor. He loves figs and will fill your basket with golden coins.


Well, when this man reached the Palace he explained to the guard why he had come., and when the Emperor heard the reason why, rather than eat the figs he was being given, he ordered the man to stand in the courtyard of the Palace instead, when all who passed by were told that they had to try to pelt him with the figs.


The man returned home wounded and crestfallen to his disappointed wife who nonetheless soon chuckled to herself saying to her husband, ‘Ah, but never mind, You do have one consolation: that, rather than figs, they might have used coconuts instead.


The end,




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