Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday: Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree


THE MORNING AFTER JESUS TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM, on March 31, A.D. 33, as Jesus and his disciples were leaving Bethany, where they had spent the night, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree covered with leaves a little way off the road. He went over to the tree to see if it had any figs, but since it was early in the season, it had only leaves. Jesus said to the tree, 'May no one ever eat your fruit again!' (Mark 11:12-14)

Was Jesus having a temper tantrum because the tree had no fruit for his breakfast? Certainly he knew it was too early in the season for figs, so he used the opportunity for a visual parable. Several passages in the Old Testament liken Israel to a fig tree. Just as the beautiful leaves on the fig tree concealed its lack of fruit, so too the magnificence of the Temple in Jerusalem concealed the fact that Israel---and the Jewish religious leaders---did not have the fruit of righteousness God required. Both the fig tree and the temple looked attractive from a distance, but on closer inspection both had no fruit.

Jesus cursing the fig tree symbolized the curse that would soon fall on Judaism and its temple.

When Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple and found the count of the Gentiles (the outer court) filled with merchants.

When Jews traveled to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the temple, they  needed to purchase animals for their sacrifices. They also had to pay a temple tax of one shekel to get in which often required  money changers to change Roman currency into Tyrian shekels.  For many years these money changing operations took place at four markets on the nearby Mount of Olives.

But around  A.D. 30, three years before Jesus' crucifixion, the Jewish high priest decided to set up a market in the court of the Gentiles to compete with the markets on the Mount of Olives. The result was the court of Gentiles looked like an Oriental bazaar.

When Jesus arrived at the Temple and saw all this commerce, he began to drive out the merchants and their customers knocking over tables of money changers and stalls of those selling doves, and preventing everyone from bringing in new merchandise. Jesus explained his actions by announcing, 'The Scriptures declare, My House will be called a place of prayer for all nations, but you have turned it into a a den of thieves.'  (Mark 11:15-17)

To Jesus turning any part of the temple into a market was an abomination. The court of the Gentiles was supposed to be the' place of prayer for all nation,'  but there was no place for them to pray when it was so filled with merchants. This was God's temple and Jesus was no about to allow buying and selling within it.

When the chief priests and teachers of Jewish law heard what Jesus had done, they intensified their plots to kill him.  Nevertheless they were afraid of him because the people were so enthusiastic about his teaching. (Mark 11:18)

The next morning as Jesus and his disciples passed by the fig tree he had cursed the day before,  the disciples noticed that its leaves had dried up.  Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the day before and exclaimed, 'Look Teacher! The fig tree you cursed has withered.' (Mark 11:21)

-----from The One Year Christian History, Michael and Sharon Rusten

Post Script:  Jesus cursed the fig tree in A.D. 33 and saw it wither and die in one day.  It was  not until A.D. 70, some 40 years after Caiphas had set up the markets in the court of the Gentiles that Jesus sent the Roman army---the abomination of desolation---to completely destroy the temple and level Jerusalem..  Sometimes justice is quick but often it's delayed and seems slow in coming.  However long it is in coming, judgment is always certain to happen exactly as prophesied.  Always.


About five hundred years before Jesus' time, the prophet Ezekiel had relayed a vision of the "Shekinah" (the glory) of Yahweh leaving the temple, due to its corruption: "The glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house (the temple) and stopped above the cherubim. The cherubim rose from the earth in my sight as they went out. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord; and the glory of the God of Israel was above them" (Ez. 10: 18-19).
This was one of the most devastatingtexts in the Old Testament. The temple of the Lord was seen as, in almost a literal sense, the dwelling place of God, the meeting place of heaven and earth.

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