Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Monday, April 18th
The day after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is written around this peculiar encounter with a nonproductive fig tree. Why does he curse this tree that bears no fruit? It seems superfluous if we merely read verse 12-14. Yet when connected to his encounter with the money changers in the Temple, we can see how the tree represents the Tempe, subverted, corrupted, dying changed from a place of God’s presence, to merely a place for business as usual.
In that day the money used for business was Roman. As such, it had the face of the emperor on it, much like the presidents on our coins today. For the Jews, that was idolatry. In order to purchase animals to offer a sacrifice or when you went to the Temple on pilgrimage you had to change your Roman money, to non-idolatrous money. Undoubtedly there were heft exchange fees. It’s one of the few scenes in which we see an explosive and even violent Jesus. His righteous anger and zeal for justice literally turns the world upside down. Is it because of the money or is it because of a worship experience that was inauthentic, hiding truth behind sacrificial actions? Jesus seems to name what quite possibly every one saw: the place for encounter with God had become a place of profit and business, a space regulated to particular people and cultures. Jeremiah had already criticized sacrificial worship in his day, (Jeremiah 7) portraying true worship as more of how you are than a specific thing that you do. How does Jesus reinterpreting Jeremiah’s words by turning the tables of the Temple literally upside down? What might Jesus do if he came to our worship on a Sunday? Why?
The beginning of Mark’s gospel moves forward from the words of Isaiah uttered by John the Baptizer: “I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way: the voice of once crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Mark 1:2-3) The path of Jesus transforms everyone and everything that it encounters. In this confrontation with the religious establishment, Jesus is calling for clarity, honesty, authenticity in the way that we practice faith, approach God and create community that transcends culture and ethnicity. As you walk and live in the way of Jesus where are the crooked paths in your life that need to be straightened? Where are the places in our congregational life that need to be exposed as nonproductive, or released as obligations we carry because of guilt or history? How do we worship inauthentically, putting God in a box rather than seeking a wild and dangerous God who is beyond our control. How is that the human thing to do? How might God be inviting you to move beyond such faith impasses to experience faith as a wild ride and life-transforming journey?