Mark 11:20-25

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 11:20-25

We start again with the fig tree. Fig trees are amazingly productive. Once past their first year, they produce fruit once or twice a year. They can remain productive for decades. But not this one. It is withered to its roots. (It is hard not to notice how the unproductive fig tree frames the story of Jesus attacking the perversion of the temple.)

But I find something else very interesting about these verses. Open your Bible. Turn to the 11th chapter of Mark. Do you see verse 26? Quite likely, you don’t.

I use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV). Verse 26 only appears in a footnote in my Bible. As it does in the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and the New International Version (NIV). It doesn’t even show up in the Living Bible (LB) or the New Living Translation (NLT).

Here is what the footnote says: “Other ancient authorities add verse 26, ‘But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’” Interesting, isn’t it, that those who decide such things, decided this verse didn’t belong in the main text?

I do want to note that verse 26 DOES appear in the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV) AND in Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, the Message (MG).

Why would some include it while others relegate it to a footnote? Bible scholars would no doubt argue about the veracity of the underlying manuscript sources…but I’m suspicious.

I’m thinking, on a practical level, verse 26 makes the faith all too real and maybe too hard. It is possible, self-centered as we are, to hear the words “Forgive us our trespasses” very clearly as we pray the Lord’s Prayer without paying much attention at all to “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” The missing verse 26 removes any uncertainty about the centrality of God’s will that we forgive one another – not just that we seek God’s forgiveness to make sure and secure our place in the boat.

Personally, this is just my opinion, but if Mark had asked me as he wrote his Jesus story, I would much rather include verse 26 and drop the metaphor of the mountain and the sea. What Jesus is doing in this passage is encouraging us to pray always – coming on the heels of his declaration of the temple as a house of prayer – because prayer keeps us in relationship with God. Prayer helps us remember that God is God and we’re not – and that we are never alone.

Jesus isn’t equating prayer with a Celestial Amazon Order for people who REALLY believe. Even if you’re heard TV preachers promising a miraculous godly harvest after you’ve done your generosity thing. That is not the Christian faith. That is the con of a charlatan.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we remember this morning that 7 of the 10 commandments have to do with loving our neighbor. We get it. This matters to you. You want your love not only to be real but to be realized in our lives, and that happens when we let your love flow through us in forgiving others, even as we find the peace that comes when others forgive us. Let that not only be our prayer but our practice. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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