Monday, February 20, 2017
The Cursed Fig Tree
“And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.” (Mark 11:12-14)
Monday morning, Jesus and the disciples left Bethany on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus was hungry, and when he saw a fig tree that was leafed out. Figs bloom and begin developing fruit about the same time as they begin making leaves, and the fruit can be eaten long before it is ripe. Figs have rather large leaves, making them relatively easy to identify from a distance. Even though it not time for the figs to ripen, the fact that the leaves were well developed indicated there should be some fruit on the tree. When he got there, there was no fruit and Jesus cursed the tree, commanding that no one ever eat fruit off it, because he had been deceived by the growth of the leaves. The disciples overheard what he said.
“And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.“ (Mark 11:15-17)
Seven hundred years before the Assyrians conquered Israel and relocated them. About a hundred years later the Babylonians conquered Judah and relocated them. When Judah was allowed to return after seventy years. Many stayed in the lands where they had been moved to. In Jesus’ day many of them still traveled to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. It was impractical to carry sacrifices such long distances, so they brought money to buy sacrifices in Israel. To make things easier, the priests allowed livestock dealers and bankers to set up stalls inside the courtyard where people could exchange their money for Roman or Jewish coins and buy the things they needed for sacrifices right there.
Because it offered such convenience, they were able to charge much higher prices than other people would get for their livestock. Jesus accused them of using God’s house as a way of ripping the people off, overcharging for the sacrifices and fudging on their exchange rates. He refused to allow them to carry any kind of supplies such as salt, oil, or flour around the temple for people to buy. Matthew and Luke indicate this actually occurred on Sunday rather than on Monday. It is helpful toe remember that neither Mark nor Luke were disciples at the time, and so they wrote what others told, some twenty five years later. Such minor discrepancies are to be expected, if there has not been collusion between the writers. About sixty years after the crucifixion, Papias quoted John as saying that Mark had gotten the basic stories correct, but that some of the stories were out of order.
“And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.” (Mark11:18)
The scribes and priests had been charging for the privilege of setting up booths inside the Temple grounds, and making quite a lot of profit. They really resented Jesus forcing them to stop making all that money. Afraid he was going to destroy their incomes, they began to actively plot to get rid of him, because it was obvious the people liked what he told them. They were as desperate to stop him as the Liberals are to stop Donald Trump after the 2016 election.
Jesus spent most of the day teaching the people there in Jerusalem before returning to the hills around Bethany for the night, according to the other gospels.
“And when even was come, he went out of the city.” (Mark 11:19)