Take a few moments and consider these words from the Gospel of St. Mark:
“The next day, after leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So he said to it, ‘No one will ever again eat your fruit!’ His disciples heard this” (11:12-19 CEB).
I am surprised that this strange story of Jesus cursing the fig tree ever got into the New Testament. Among all of the stories about Jesus recorded in the Gospels, this one is just about the most difficult to explain. Why would Jesus curse a random fig tree?
The author of Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus was hungry. Mark’s Jesus is nothing if not human. He experiences hunger and thirst, just like everybody else. But then he does something that seems much TOO human. He appears to get angry at an inanimate object. Have you ever done that? I have seen it a time or two…especially on golf courses or football fields!
Jesus says to the fig tree: “No one will ever again eat of your fruit!” How odd and out of character for Jesus! Whatever shall we do with this peculiar story?
Some New Testament scholars maintain that this is part of the apocryphal stories of Jesus that were not originally included in the biblical corpus. One such collection was compiled by a group known as the Gnostics, of the second century. In one of their Gospels titled, “The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ,” there are several far-fetched stories from Jesus’ childhood. Let me share a few examples:
In Chapter 15 of this Gnostic gospel, Jesus and some of His childhood playmates make some figures of birds and sparrows out of clay. Jesus commands His clay birds to fly…and they do!
In Chapter 19, one of Jesus’ young playmates bumps into him on the playground and knocks him down. Jesus, in anger, tells him to “Drop dead!” And the boy does.
One of my favorite stories is found in Chapter 16. In it, Jesus helped his father Joseph around the carpenter shop in Nazareth. But this Gospel says that Joseph wasn’t very good at the carpenter’s trade. He kept making things too long, or too short, or too narrow, or too wide. Not to worry. No problem. Jesus stretched forth his hand and presto! Everything fit perfectly.
My point here is that this story in St. Mark, at first glance, seems to fit into the category of these over-the-top apocryphal stories which have Jesus doing all sorts of things which most of us find incredible, and which the early Church rejected as part of sacred scripture because they do not represent Jesus as he was typically depicted in the four canonical gospels.
Why, then, did Mark include one such story in his, the first, Gospel? What shall we do with it since it is in our Bible?
It would be too easy to simply dismiss it. But Mark included it, and he must have done so for a reason. I am convinced that Mark put it there for a purpose.
Why? That is the issue that we will tackle this coming Sunday as I continue my current sermon series Did You Get My Text? Decoding Some of the Most Misunderstood Stories in the Bible. The lesson of the barren fig tree really has something to say to us that is of the utmost importance. I certainly hope you will plan to be in worship this coming Sunday. I wouldn’t want you to miss it!
See you soon!
P.S. In worship last Sunday, Pastor Robert announced that we’ll be having an Organ Concert and Workshop in our sanctuary on October 13 and 14 with internally renowned musician Dan Miller and I wanted to tell you more about that.
An organist since the age of 15, Dan Miller holds a Church Music Diploma from Moody Bible Institute. He majored in organ performance at the American Conservatory of Music, holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Florida Atlantic University, and a Master of Music degree in Organ Performance from Winthrop University. Miller has published and taught music, conducted choirs and orchestras, and has both performed in and managed large productions and music conferences around the world.
Dan will be flying in from his home in Oregon to show us what our very own Rogers Infinity organ is capable of and I can’t wait to hear that music shake the floor! The Workshop on Saturday at noon is designed for musicians and those interested in how the organ works. On Sunday during worship at 8:30 and 11:00 am. he will be the guest organist and he’ll provide a concert for Asbury and music lovers throughout the community. Do mark your calendar for this incredible concert!