Lest Like the Fig Tree

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

By James Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 21:12-22

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”

Meditation

This year marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy. In the Inferno, the first third of the Comedy, Dante makes his way down through the nine circles of hell and witnesses the divine judgements meted out for certain unrepented sins. Each distinct form of suffering reveals the true nature of the sin with which it is paired. For example, wicked barristers who profited through hiding the truth must now themselves hide in a lake of boiling pitch to avoid becoming the sport of demons. Similarly, church leaders who sold ecclesiastical positions for worldly profit, turning their heavenly focus upside down in favor of worldly gain, now reside upside-down in infernal baptismal fonts.

We see Jesus exercise this kind of revealing judgment in today’s gospel reading. After famously overturning the tables and chairs of the moneychangers and pigeon-sellers, Jesus turns toward healing the blind and the lame. The text then says that the chief priests and scribes were indignant when they “saw the wonderful things that he did.” Their indignation arose not from the disruption of their economic systems, but in response to the praise that those he healed were heaping upon Jesus. The love of God made flesh stokes the fears of the powerful, and in today’s reading, this reality is laid bare. Jesus later underscores the fruitlessness of these religious leaders by cursing a fruitless fig tree. The diseased end of destruction toward which the tree is already headed is made immediate by Jesus’ curse, and it withers and dies instantly.

What does Christ’s work in the world today reveal about the world’s nature? What does it reveal about our own nature? How much more fervently would we plead for God’s mercy if we kept this judgment at the forefront of our minds, lest like the fig tree we meet the natural end of our unrepentance, and wither and die?

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
The Diocese of Ife (Church of Nigeria)

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