The Cleansing of the Temple
Holy Week - Monday
We are following Jesus thought the events of Holy Week, and today we focus on the cleansing of the Temple. Here’s Mark’s account.
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.
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. (Mark 11:12-20)
It it true that the caricature of “gentle Jesus meek and mild” is a false one, but to go around cursing fig trees does seem a bit steep! Jesus has gone into Jerusalem to wild acclaim, and you would have thought he would have been in a better mood. This cursing is all the more strange when you consider that “it was not the season for figs”. So why curse a tree for not producing out of season fruit?
The reason is that Jesus is acting out a parable. Israel was likened to fig trees by one Old Testament prophet, who wrote: "When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig-tree.” (Hosea 9:10) This ‘early fruit’ were the fig buds known as ‘paggim’, and these were edible.
So when Jesus comes to the tree - which is in leaf and looks like it should be full of ‘paggim’ - he finds it barren. The display of leaf is misleading, for here is a tree which bears no fruit.
And then Jesus goes to the Temple, and finds the same story. All the bustle of the Temple is there, but there is no fruit. Just money making. The barren Temple is like the barren tree, and it suffers the same fate.
The next time they saw it, the fig tree was “withered away to its roots”. In 70AD the Temple was demolished by the Romans, its function now performed by Christ himself.
As we begin this Holy Week this acted out parable asks “are you bearing fruit”? A sobering question, but we are fortunate indeed that the fruit which is needed is a gift from God. As Paul reminds us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” (Galatians 5:22).
Trees bear fruit when their roots go down into good soil, and we bear fruit when we put our roots down into the Scriptures and prayer. So put down roots and bear good fruit!