May 03, 2007

Mark 11.11-22

He entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple, where he looked at the whole scene, but as it was now late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

On the following day, after they had left Bethany, he felt hungry, and noticing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. But when he came there he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" And his disciples were listening.

So they came to Jerusalem, and he went into the Temple and began driving out those who bought and sold in the Temple. He upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dealers in pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to use the Temple court as a thoroughfare for carrying goods.

Then he began to teach them, and said, "Does not Scripture say, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations"? But you have made it a robbers' cave.

The chief priests and the doctors of the law heard of this and sought some means of making away with him, for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came he went out of the city.

Early next morning, as they passed by, they saw that the fig-tree had withered from the roots up; and Peter, recalling what had happened, said to him, "Rabbi, look, the fig tree which you cursed has withered."


At 7:02 p.m., Blogger david said...

So the story appears in Matthew and Mark but not in Luke -- which is itself unusual in the synoptic tradition. Matthew has the fig tree wither immediately -- possibly as Matthew is impressed with power and authority.

Mark uses the day it takes for the barren tree to wither to make a fig tree sandwich with the cleansing of the temple as the filling between the two slices of fig tree.

I cannot help but see the money changers in the temple as a barren fig tree. Question: if the act of cleansing the clearing of the temple? Or is the withering of the temple worship later -- post gospel even -- a prophetic warning that temple worship is coming to an end?

I'm not committed to one of either. What counts for me is the clear indication that temple worship is bearing the brambles of greedy money changing and abusive practices rather than the sweet fruits of justice and righteousness.

At 8:08 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

I'm inclined to see the matter of the fig tree as a later symbolic story. Real miracles: People are healed. This is the only case I can think of where Jesus is supposed to effectively curse anything--and the cursed object is symbolic of the Jewish religion. Which people continued to find nourishment in, long after what Christian observers considered its "withering."

But this business in the Temple is definitely important. Question: Could the Temple be doing business during the Sabbath? The guards were authorized to be on duty; the priest belonged there; but who are these businessfolks in the outer courts. "Not carrying anything through" the place would fit. If a rabbi comes in and tells everybody that what they're doing is illegal, it's not an insurrection, but an argument they need to settle.

Another thing. Pigeons are, perforce, the sacrifice of choice for a poor worshipper. Is the price of pigeons now a burden on the people that these minor sacrifices are intended to help? Money-changing & pigeon-selling are, of course, essential to the normal business of the Temple.

And probably this is not "cleansing," but destruction.

The precedent of Jeremiah, which Jesus' words allude to, is chilling.

And of course, this is the act that leads inevitably to Jesus' death.

At 6:31 a.m., Blogger david said...

Cleansing is destructive -- ask any bacterium.

Yes I think the cleansing is an antitype to the coming destruction of the temple and puts a spin on it so it looks like the just removal of a corrupt institution. Even though its the Romans its still in God's plan.

At 6:55 a.m., Blogger david said...

I'm inclined to see the matter of the fig tree as a later symbolic story. Real miracles: People are healed. This is the only case I can think of where Jesus is supposed to effectively curse anything--and the cursed object is symbolic of the Jewish religion.

Folks getting healed or not most of the miracle stories are symbolic and so I read them with much the same set of decoding skills I use in parables. For em their symbolic resonance is a separate issue from whether or not they actually happened. Some may have. All may have. They were selected for the author's spirit led purposes to be included and so point beyond themselves to something else.

Only real difference with the withering fig tree is the symbolism is so overt its like the miracle story is standing on the kitchen table waving its hands in the air screaming, "Look over here! I'm an allegory!"

At 7:22 a.m., Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

The fig tree is a real fig tree. Symbolic or not, Jesus (God) strikes it dead for being barren, a condition that it apparently cannot help. The cursing of the fig tree is a paradigm for the larger puzzle of theodicy, which has alienated many non-Christians from the Jud├Žo-Christian God.

At 9:03 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

Wait a minute; this has stopped making sense. My dictionary says "theodicy" is about the justice of God--a concept the Jews developed well beyond the ideas of the classic pagan religions.

The Jews have done as good a job of being Chosen as any people we know ever could have. So God threatened to do them all in in the desert and give Moses another people, a good people to lead--something Moses talks him out of. Their rulers have been no better than those of the pagans, so God sent them prophets to relentlessly criticise and threaten vengeance for shortcomings He takes for granted in other nations, and destroyed their Temple and kingdom, exiled their leadership and returned their descendents from Israel to run a client theocracy for the Persians--and when their rulers were still no better than they ought to be, God sent Jesus to reinforce the ethical & merciful emphasis that's been a feature of their religion since nomadic times.

Unfortunately, at the time of Jesus the Jews are being ruled by a corrupt & faithless collaborators with a ruthless & near-undefeatable foreign power. So Jesus curses their religion? And their Temple gets burned down, with massive bloodshed, forty years later. This is justice?

Ah. You're saying this is an example of apparent injustice, as it is. It didn't seem so to Christians of a later generation, who were resentful of being disowned by their parent religion in the face of Roman persecutions--and as we see in Acts, much more fond of destructive miracles than the healing sort Jesus normally does in the gospels.

We might do best to take it as an admonition to be more fruitful--which implies being open to the Spirit which alone can pollinate good fruit in us. Not a threat, mind you, merely a chance to contemplate the futility of not bearing fruit.

At 12:35 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

About the "Cleansing" being on the Sabbath... Jesus comes into town, too late in the day to do anything but take a look at the Temple and withdraw to his local base.

Why? He can't travel on the Sabbath; so he makes sure he arrives the day before.

I know I may be reading too much into the story here. But remember, this comes from material that made more sense to Jewish Christians of the time.

A modern Jewish reader compared the incident to the procedures for treating a house infested with "leprosy"--hence the comment elsewhere about "not one stone left upon another"--which was not an accurate prediction if one includes the outer wall, but would be part of that procedure. But "leprosy" was a punishment for a particular sort of sin that doesn't seem to fit the misdeeds of the Temple establishment. So we probably need another reason for interrupting normal business and specifically carrying objects through the Temple--which could be considered "labor," therefore forbidden on the Sabbath.


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