Mark 11: 12 – 26 Jesus curses a fig-tree and clears the temple courts
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig-tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig-tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig-tree you cursed has withered!’
‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’
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I have always found the story of Jesus cursing the fig-tree rather disturbing. It seemed arbitrary and harsh. After all, figs weren’t in season, so of course it would have no fruit. I sat down to grapple with it this morning, and asked why Jesus had done this. The answer that came to me was this. The death of the fig-tree enables Jesus to teach his disciples about faith.
Jesus starts his teaching on faith with the words, ‘Have faith in God.’ That’s what he’s talking about. Not faith in the abstract, where you just have to wish hard enough for something to receive it, but faith in God.
What is faith in God?
It’s not hoping for something, or wishing for it, or even feelings of inspiration after particularly moving worship music. No, faith in God is a resolution that says, “I choose to follow Jesus Christ. By God’s free grace, I shall serve Jesus as my king.” It is a resolution renewed daily, hourly sometimes, even minute by minute if circumstances are very difficult.
To serve Jesus as king, we have to know what he wants us to do. This means bible study, prayer and humility. Bible study teaches us about Jesus. Prayer gives us a way of listening to God’s will. Humility allows us to gradually release our own desires and conceits and focus on the tasks that Jesus needs us to carry out.
Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.’
Jesus never did such a miracle, but I’m sure that if it had been part of God’s plan he would have done. Miracles happen, but only when God wills them to happen.
So why does Jesus use this example?
I think it’s to teach us not to limit our expectations of God. After all, Jesus miraculously fed multitudes; he miraculously calmed the Sea of Galilee in a storm. The teaching here encourages us that we are permitted to ask for such things, provided we are sure they are God’s will.
Jesus concluded the teaching with the words, ‘And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’
What a reminder! Jesus has just taught us about the faith that moves mountains. That involves constant prayer to be in tune with the will of God. And when we stand praying, if we hold anything against any one, we are to forgive them so that our Father in heaven may forgive us our sins. If we carry sin, we can’t serve Jesus effectively. If we don’t forgive others, we carry sin and we can’t serve Jesus effectively. And this promise about effective prayer hinges totally on our faith in God, which is to say, our obedience in following Jesus.
There is, of course, another strand to the passage we’ve read today – it is the clearing of the temple.
The clearing of the temple antagonises the religious authorities. They “began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”
Jesus’ actions are deliberately designed to stir up the authorities. Through intense prayer, he knows what the Father wills for him. His faith is perfect. He knows his role. He is walking on the way of the cross in perfect obedience. He knows, now, that he is soon to die.
That is the faith he was teaching his disciples to strive for, the faith that enables obedience to the will of God.
May all those of us who follow Jesus grow in faith every day.
Thank you for sending Jesus to be our king. Please help me, and all the followers of Jesus, to grow in faith every day.
In Jesus name, Amen