Friday, June 1, 2018
Lord, merciful Father, You chose each of Your children, that they might become heralds of Your love in the world and bring the good fruit of Your Presence to all peoples. May our fruit remain, thanks to our communion with You and with Your Son, Jesus; help us to gather this fruit, which is our Friend and Teacher, who enters every day into the holy temple of our lives. May He renew His covenant with us daily, through faith and prayer full of trusting abandon. Amen.
From the gospel according to Mark (11:11-25)
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve. The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, "May no one ever eat of your fruit again!" And his disciples heard it. They came to Jerusalem, and on entering the temple area he began to drive out those selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area. Then he taught them saying, "Is it not written: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples? But you have made it a den of thieves." The chief priests and the scribes came to hear of it and were seeking a way to put him to death, yet they feared him because the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching. When evening came, they went out of the city. Early in the morning, as they were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered to its roots. Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered." Jesus said to them in reply, "Have faith in God. Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions."
* “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area.” One of the characteristics of this passage is the continuous movement of Jesus, expressed in the repetition and alternation of the verbs “enter” and “leave” (vv. 11; 12; 15; 19). In fact, the Lord continuously comes into our life, into our space, into our experience, and passes and walks with us. Later, He goes - He distances Himself - He leaves us to search and wait, and then He returns again to be found. He does not disdain to enter the Holy City, into the temple, and thus is within us, in our heart, offering us His visit of salvation.
* “He was hungry.” The verb we find here, from Mark’s pen, is the same verb used in Matthew and in Luke in the story of the temptation in the desert (Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2) and is used to express a condition of weakness, fragility, need, and tiredness. Jesus searches for something more than a simple fruit to satisfy His hunger. He does not ask something of a fig out of season, but asks of His people, asks of us, the good food of love. That which comes prepared to the table of the covenant, from the “yes”, pronounced with trust and abandon.
* “Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf.” The figure of the fig tree, which occupies a central place in this passage, is a very strong symbol of Israel, the chosen people; of the temple and cult rendered to God in its entirety; and finally of ourselves, if we want it, of the most profound truth of our heart.
The leaves of the fig clearly refer to the experience of Adam in the Garden of Eden, his contact with sin, his nudity and his consequential shame. Jesus, stopping before this fig during His journey toward Jerusalem and setting His eyes on the leaves that hide the lack of fruit, tears the veil hiding our truth and exposes our heart, not to condemn it, but to save and to heal it. The fruit of the fig is indeed sweet. The Lord searches for the sweetness of love to speak to our life. The barren fig, empty of fruit and life, anticipates the temple emptied of sense, profaned and made useless from rapport with God which is only flight, is in a lack of encounter. Like Adam, then Israel, and perhaps also us.
* “those selling and buying there.” The scene of the purification of the temple (vv. 15-17), which Mark inserts between the two moments of encounter already anticipated by the curse of the fig tree without fruit, is very strong and animated. This time, we are called to set our attention on the verbs “drive out,” “overturned,” “did not permit,” “selling,” “buying,” “money-changers,” “vendors,” “thieves,” “carry anything.” Jesus inaugurates a new economy in which “you were sold for nothing, and without money you shall be redeemed” (Is 52:3), “He shall…let my exiles go free without price or ransom” (Is 45:13) and “you were ransomed…not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb” (1 Pt 1:18-19).
* “house of prayer.” From the holy temple we are led into the house, the dwelling of God, where the true sacrifice is prayer, that is, the face-to-face encounter with Him as children with our Father. Here nothing is bought, there is no money, but only the gift of the heart that opens itself with full trust to prayer and faith.
* “the fig tree withered to its roots.” It is these themes that the word of Mark wishes to offer for our meditation, continuing the reading of the passage. We must leave the temple to enter into the house. We must leave the sale to enter into the gift and trust. The tree without fruit is withered and seems to be in the middle of the road, indicating the new way to go, with the rising of a new morning (v. 20), a way toward God, and towards our brothers and sisters.
* “have faith with no doubt.” With this most beautiful expression, Jesus helps us to enter into the depths of ourselves and to make contact with our heart in truth. The Greek text has a wonderful verb, translated here as “doubt”, which wishes to express an interior split, a division, a battle between two factions. Jesus invites us to place absolute trust in Him and in the Father, in order to not become shattered within. In a full and complete way we can come near to God, and we can be in relationship with Him, without the need of leaves to mask ourselves, without beginning to count our change and calculate the price to pay, without making separations within ourselves, but offering ourselves completely to Him, as we are, bringing with us the good and sweet fruit of love.
* “When you stand to pray, forgive.” And it cannot be any other way than this: the end and the new beginning of the way of faith and prayer, in the life of the Christian, is found in relationship with brothers and sisters, in the encounter with them and in the exchange of reciprocal giving. There is no prayer, cult of God, holy temple, sacrifices pleasing to God, no fruit or sweetness, without love for our brother or sister. Mark calls it forgiveness, Jesus calls it love: the only fruit capable of satisfying our hunger, of relieving our weariness.
4. Questions for Reflection
* Meditating on this passage I encountered two strong figures: the fig tree and the temple, both without fruit, without life and love. I saw Jesus, who with His coming and His strong and sure work, changed this situation, offering a new aspect to life. Am I able to recognize my need to let myself be reached out to by the Lord, to let myself be touched by Him? Do I see myself, in certain aspects of myself, of my life, as a barren fig, without fruit or like the temple, a cold place of commerce and calculation? Do I feel within myself the desire to be able to give the sweet fruit of love, of friendship, of sharing? Do I hunger for prayer, for a true relationship with the Father?
* Following Jesus along the way, can I also enter into the new morning of His Law and His teaching? Am I able to recognize the cracks that I carry in my heart? Where do I feel most divided, most insecure, most confused? Why can I not completely entrust myself to my Father? Why do I still hobble on two feet, as the prophet Elijah says (cf. I Kings 18:21). I know that the Lord is God and now I want to follow Him! Not alone, but opening my heart to many brothers and sisters, making myself friend and companion on the journey, to share in the joy and in the struggle, the fear and the enthusiasm of the way; I know with certainty that following the Lord I will be happy. Amen.
5. Final Prayer
Lord, I want to sing a new song!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
a hymn in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
the people of Zion rejoice in their king.
Let them praise His name in festive dance,
make music with tambourine and lyre.
For the LORD takes delight in His people,
honors the poor with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
cry out for joy at their banquet,
with the praise of God in their mouths,
and a two-edged sword in their hands