Thursday, April 12, 2012

120412 - Mark 11-12 - When Activity Results in Fruitlessness and Dried Leaves

Thursday SOAP: What is fruitfulness, really? Productiveness? Activity that brings results? A return on God's investment? It is all of those things, but it is far more. The fruit of the Spirit is love. When it's quoted that way, if I feel "shortchanged" in an OCD way on the sum of Galatians 5:22-23's fruit (yes, there should be nine, shouldn't there?) I may have missed something far more important than a list of nine virtues.

S: On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14)

O: I won't be tedious enough to quote two-thirds of this chapter and a third of the next - but I think the fig tree is closely connected with the parable in the next chapter of the landowner who owned a vineyard, went away to a far country and sent others to collect fruit. In the intervening verses Jesus cleanses the Temple and the priests ask him in what authority He did it. Their hypocrisy is shown in their unwillingness to commit to Christ's return question about whether John the Baptist's ministry was from heaven or of men. So He spoke in parables to them fron then on.

A: In taking an integrated look at these three events, each one becomes clearer. In the parable, Jesus is picturing what He had done in going into the temple. The cursing of the fig tree also pictured it from a different perspective. In an earlier parable Jesus had said,

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)

An Old Testament warning is reminiscent of both parables:

When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.” (Jeremiah 8:13)

The Judaism of Jesus' day didn't bring forth any fruit at all. Like the shepherds God warned against in Ezekiel 34:10, they fed themselves on the flock. (See Mark 12:40) The money-changing enterprise in the Temple was just one example of that.

Jesus goes on to answer a challenge about money - should they pay tax or not? His answer is itself a challenge: whose image does the coin bear? Caesar's. Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's - but to God, the things that are God's. As someone once pointed out to me, whose image did the questioners bear? God's! What should be rendered to God? Love! "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, understanding, soul and strength." (Mark 12:33) The poor widow who casts in her two mites, then illustrates both a worshiper truly giving love to God and a widow whose living is being devoured by the scribes. Her gift is worth more than all the rest of them. This could only be true in God's economy, showing He doesn't need our money, our sacrifices, our talents, if they aren't extended out of that love.

Hollow works and materials aren't the kind fruit that He wants. Like the tree He cursed, that's like the leaves without the real fruit. And wasn't it fig leaves, after all, with which Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness? (Genesis 3:7)

P: Father, what a warning to me! Sometimes I think I'm ultimately in the right place, even if my heart isn't always in the right place. And I mean that in the sense that I can accept the valley of humiliation as long as it ends with me being in the right place by your Providence. But it really is all about the heart. I'm NOT in the right place, if my heart is bitter about what I'm experiencing. Help me, help me, to guard my heart, for, as you say, out of it are the issues of life.


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