Thursday, May 26, 2016

Be Fruitful and Reverent

By Colleen O’Sullivan

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.  Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.  (I Peter 4:10-11)

The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry.  Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it.  When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs.  And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”  And his disciples heard it. They came to Jerusalem, and on entering the temple area he began to drive out those selling and buying there.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves… “Is it not written:  ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples?  But you have made it a den of thieves.’”  Early (the next) morning, as they were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered to its roots.  Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look!  The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  (Mark 11:12-15, 17b, 20-21)


I chose you from the world, to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.  (John 15:16)


What on earth got into Jesus in today’s Gospel reading?  Did he totally get up on the wrong side of the bed that day?  Could his foul mood be explained by low blood sugar fueled by extreme hunger?  It makes little sense to me to be furious at a fig tree that had no fruit when it wasn’t even the season for fig picking!  Even after reading several commentaries on this passage in Mark’s Gospel, I found no truly satisfying answer.  One scholar wrote that because the tree was in leaf, Jesus might have thought he would find some early figs.  But fruit trees have green leaves long before the fruit ever visibly begins to grow.

Putting that incongruity aside, maybe the context of these verses will shed a little light on Jesus’ ill humor.  Just the day before, he had entered Jerusalem to the sounds of loud hosannas and much festive waving of palms.  But Jesus knew he was approaching the end of his time here on earth and that the Palm Sunday shouts of acclamation would soon morph into cries of “Crucify him.  Crucify him.”   He had ticked off too many of the Pharisees and scribes to think otherwise. 

He must have felt discouraged in addition to being angry.  Everything we have and everything we are comes from God.  Jesus had walked from village to village for three years, embodying that message. For 36 months he had trudged the roads day after day, pouring himself out for others, so that we might know how loved and gifted we are by God.   Instead of fruitfully using what God gives us to “serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace,” some people are more like barren fruit trees, doing nothing in response to God’s love.  Also, on Palm  Sunday Jesus had gone into the Temple, so he knew good and well what was going on in his Father’s house, pure sacrilege  Many in the Temple were conducting themselves with disdain for all God had given them and as though they, not God, were running the show. 
These Scripture readings might lead us to self-examination.   Seen from God’s perspective, just how fruitful is my life?  Do I feel gratitude for all that God has given me, for the unique gifts God has bestowed on me?  If so, God should be able to see the fruits of those gifts used in service to others.  What is my attitude toward God?  Do I revere, love and serve God or am I like the moneychangers in the Temple, attempting to use God for my own gain? 

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