Mark 11:12-19

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?

But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. Mark 11:12-19

Yesterday, it was the crowds along the street. Today, it is the vendors in the temple square. One day posed a challenge to the authority of the political authorities. Today the challenge is to the religious authorities.

But what about that fig tree?

Many years ago, a church member brought up this passage with me. It had bothered her since childhood. How could Jesus get so angry with a fig tree? And then she made the fatal leap –  “If Jesus could get so angry at an unproductive fig tree, how would Jesus judge her should she prove to be an unproductive Christian?”

My heart went out to her. No doubt someone had drilled some pretty bent ideas about the Christian faith into her head while growing up. Not unusual ideas – Christianity as a meritocracy. Christianity as an apologist for the individualism and “climb the ladder” mentality of American culture. Christianity – and the threat of eternal punishment that some make so much of – as a deterrent against bad behavior. She swallowed it all. Christianity as behavioral manipulation.

I get that. Especially when we are children, we are wide open to the ideas given to us by the authority figures in our lives. We can be deeply wounded without any awareness from those who wounded us. That is the problem with authority figures. They can be dangerous.

Especially when their goal is to retain, at any cost, their authority. Even, maybe especially, amongst religious authorities.

Why? (And I write as somewhat of a religious authority given my official role in my congregation.) Because we need to eat. We have to make a living somehow. Ours is a service industry. Clergy are dependent on the generosity of others even given the reality that the IRS makes us stamp every year-end statement with the assurance that those who have given have not received anything of actual value in return.

When Jesus attacks the temple vendors, he is attacking the position and authority of the religious leaders. He threatened their livelihoods. I get that – especially in these days of the pandemic when our expensive buildings sit empty and the real heart of the faith – Word and Sacrament, Christian community – has to happen from a distance.

I’m not at all surprised to hear about churches that insist on public worship despite the warnings coming from public health authorities. No public worship – no physical offering? Could money be the real driving force?

It certainly was in Jesus’ day. What to do? What to do? What to do? Time to get rid of him.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we are mindful of the many ways that people can be manipulated by those who invoke your name for their own selfish purposes. We are mindful of those whose faith has been twisted by fear. May we always live by faith, not driven by fear or finances. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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