As we enter into Holy Tuesday in Jesus life it is a day of teaching in the temple, of parables and wisdom. Jesus speaks into the hearts of the religious leaders of the day and is clear about what is coming.
I would like to spend time with one of the stranger moments of his day, an odd miracle – The Cursing of a Fig Tree – it is told in Matthew 21:18-22 and can also be found in Mark 11.
At first glance it does seem a little odd, or even very odd – it looks like an act of petulance or selfishness, not something we associate with Jesus. This however is not a rash attack on nature but an acted-parable, it is highly symbolic. The Fig Tree (along with the vine) is an ancient symbol of Israel and Jesus points again (as he did in cleansing the temple) to a religion that has ceased to live out its purpose. The religion of the day is not bearing any fruit.
In St Marks gospel it is agued that it is too early for the fruit of the fig, yet they do produce early immature fruit known as taksh, usually eaten by the poor, perhaps a reference to the role of Israel in looking after the poor, the orphan and the widow. Israel were God’s chosen people and they had not shared the beauty and joy of God with all around them, keeping that blessing for themselves. In the worlds of NT Wright former Bishop of Durham “It is although the postman were to imagine all the letters in his bag were intended for him”*
The passage goes on to talk about faith moving mountains and throwing them in the sea – while this is a wonderful image of prayer (and it is about our faithful prayers) we must remember the disciples are walking up the temple mount and the reference is clear.
So where does this leave us on Holy Tuesday?
We need to ensure we are too bearing fruit individually, even in this lockdown there is so much we can do to reach out and care, even if we cannot leave the home we can pick up the phone and be a lifeline to another.
We need to reflect on what God is saying to us as a church, through this passage, through this holy week, through these awful circumstances as he continues to shape us and mould us to bear fruit in new ways.
We have truly learnt to be a church without walls over the last few weeks, we have truly learnt that while our building is both special and sacred it is we together that are called to be are the house of God in this place. I leave you with a modern hymn I love that picks up our theme:
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive;
built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions: all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus: all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground, where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space,
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us: all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger: all are welcome in this place.
Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome in this place. **
Your friend and Vicar,
* NT Wright, What St Paul Really Said, Eerdmans 1997 Page 108
** (c) Marty Haugen (b.1950)