FIG TREES, MOUNTAINS, AND THE CALL TO FORGIVE
READ: Mark 11:20-25
“The next morning as Jesus and His disciples were returning to Jerusalem and the Temple, Peter pointed out to Jesus the barren fig tree that Jesus had cursed the previous day had now withered. Jesus then said to His disciples, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to THIS mountain, “Be uprooted and thrown into the sea,” with no wavering in your faith, but believing, it will be done for you. I tell you this truth – everything you ask and pray for, believe that you already have it, and it will be yours. And when you stand in prayer, first forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven might forgive your failings as well.’ “ – Mark 11:20-25
As Jesus journeys to the events of Holy Week in Jerusalem, He pauses by a fig tree growing on the outskirts of the city. The day before, Jesus had cursed that fig tree for not bearing fruit. The poor fig tree was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That fig tree would serve as a teaching metaphor about God’s concern about the state of affairs in the capital city of Jerusalem, a town built on mountain hill named Zion. As the fig tree was not bearing fruit so Jerusalem and its civic-religious leadership was not bearing fruit. As the fig tree would be cursed and wither, so, in time, Jerusalem would also be cursed and wither. That withered fig tree would take years to die away, an ongoing reminder for all those who came to that holy city. In a mere thirty years or so, the remains of that dying tree would witness the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman legions.
But it is not the cursed fig tree on which I focus today, but instead the unexpected words that follow, a couple of teachings of Jesus that, at first, seem rather misplaced, yet again, may be quite intentionally and properly placed. Following the notice of the withering fig tree, Jesus teaches about the moving of mountains and the forgiving of souls. What have these matters to do with withered fig trees?
On the moving of mountains. Jesus speaks of moving a particular mountain, THIS mountain. As Jesus stands at the beginning of the rising road to the walls of Jerusalem, as He stands before the mount called Zion, He teaches His disciples about the casting away of mountains. He endows them with a most awesome power, the lifting of a mount such as Jerusalem’s Zion and casting it into the sea! “If you have faith, steady, enduring, persevering faith, you could toss this mountain into the sea! But your faith must be unwavering and it must be sustained. As I cursed the fig tree and caused it to wither, you, my disciples, could curse Jerusalem and cast it into the sea! And you will certainly soon have the emotion to do so. But before you do .. listen…”
Jesus then tempers this power to curse and cast away with a teaching which seems, at first reading, to be totally unconnected. “But before you do … listen …before you go cursing fig trees and casting mountain-cities into the sea, before you pray for God to perform such mighty wrath on your behalf or take it upon yourselves to perform such mighty wrath on behalf of God… you MUST take the time to first forgive … to forgive … to forgive them all … remembering that you too have your failings and are in need of forgiveness.”
There is a religious zeal that is quite eager to curse and cast into the sea. In truth, it comes easily and, for a time, feels rather soothing and good. Yes, this righteous moral zeal to cast sinners into the sea comes quite naturally to human souls, especially those souls that might be wounded, frightened, or embittered. Understandably, martyred souls, persecuted souls, rejected souls like would be the souls of the apostles would quite instinctively pray for the power to wield God’s wrath. And there may be a moral justice in such thinking, but Jesus then cautions …., in the way of Christ, we are taught to first pray… to ask for the power to forgive. Why? For like them, we too have our failings.
Forgiveness is the first work of a Christian disciple, not the last. We are not called to be prophets of doom but rather ministers of hope.
Brother Anthony of the Cross