Friday, June 15th. Mark 11:20-26

In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’   Mark 11:20-26


Now we find ourselves again with the now withered fig tree.  Peter is quite impressed.


I’m having a hard time listening to this text this morning.  I’m not impressed with a fig tree parlor trick.  This simply seems out of character for the Jesus we have been following.  He heals people.  He tells stories.  He doesn’t snap his fingers or wiggle his nose or mouth incantations.  He works miracles, not magic.  The fig tree looks like magic.


I hear the encouragement Jesus gives for the disciples to have faith.  The encouragement to pray and the promise that their prayers would be answered….if only they believe.  This too is troublesome.


How many people have prayed fervently through the years for miracles to happen?  Prayers for sick parents and children and loved ones.  Prayers for sons and daughters serving in the military.  Prayers for business deals that would save their jobs or rain that would save their crops.  Prayers for sobriety and prayers for their next drink.


Sometimes what they pray for happens.  Once.  And “faith” becomes magic for them.  Rather than a foundation for life, it becomes a fountain of youth, a mythic fantasy they chase but never catch.  Until they give up and quit.  Resentful, disillusioned, disconnected.


Far more often, prayers seem to go unanswered.  Then people might doubt their faith – did they believe enough?  Did they pray with the right words in the right ways?  Well meaning people tell them, “God always answers prayers, it is just that sometimes the answer is no.”  They say, “You have to remember that God’s timing is not your own.  You never know how God will answer your prayers but God always will.”


Well meaning people protecting God, as if God needs the help.  Well meaning people unconsciously protecting their own sense of faith as magic.


This can be a dangerous text.


Or we can hear it differently.  We can see the fig tree as a symbol of this very kind of misguided faith.  There it stands, looking like a fig tree, acting like a fig tree, taking up the same space as a fig tree.  But bearing no fruit.  Its time is over.


Like the temple.  Majestic, awe-inspiring.  Busy as a beehive.  But empty of prayers.  It has ceased being a beacon of hope, transformed by human pride into Fantasy Island.  It has to go.


Nothing will be left at the end.  Nothing except forgiveness.  Reconciliation.  Resurrection.  “ Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, may we pray less about change in the world and more about change in our own hearts, that we might change the world.  May we pray less for magic and miracles and more for the resolve to do what only we can do.  May we, in our prayers, be ever more deeply rooted in you, source and giver of life itself. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


9 Responses to “Friday, June 15th. Mark 11:20-26”

  1. melmusser Says:

    Excellent thoughts on the text! Faith isn’t like a giant slot machine in heaven where you put your prayers in and pull the lever and wait to see if you’re a winner… Faith is trust that no matter what your life’s situation God is with you and has already worked out your ultimate fate–resurrection to eternal life!!!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    This really spoke to me. Pray for a change in my heart so that I may change the world. Also to pray for forgiveness.

  3. Gloria Smith-Rockhold Says:

    As a flawed person, I find it easy to fall into the prayer “magic” syndrome and then become disillusioned when things don’t turn out the way I want. As a lifelong Lutheran, I have struggled throughout my life not to fall into this pit. This has led to some cynicism concerning prayer until I read Adam Hamilton’s Why? It is a down-to-earth approach to discerning God’s will for our lives as well as addressing prayer. Read it and you will understand why Rev. Kerry’s posting today is right on target.

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