Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 3: Easter Week Blog . . . Monday

3/28 –  Monday - Cursing the tree

Matthew 21:18-19
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

This is one of a handful of situations where Jesus seems to act completely out of character.  Jesus finds a fig tree, looks for fruit and then curses it when it doesn't have any figs.  

A couple of problems:

          *   When have we ever seen Jesus use His powers to condemn something?
          *    Isn’t this someone’s tree?
      *   According to what people know about fig trees, the month of April isn’t time for figs to            grow – how could Jesus be upset with a tree that wasn’t able to produce fruit?
        *   . . . and isn’t this someone’s tree?  I mean, come on . . .

I get sensitive about the cursing of the fig tree because I like to grow things in my backyard.  At least I like to think that I grow things – I have my fair share of success and failure.   I had a pear tree a few years ago that looked like you attacked it with napalm.  Seriously.  It was black from end to end.  Branches shriveled up and died.  

Every time we discussed the fate of the tree my wife would just raise her eyebrows and walk away saying, "you need to cut that thing down."

I let it go two years hoping it would get better . . . but then I had to cut it down.  It was beginning to spread disease - the raspberries and grapes were next.  If I hadn't cut them down, the whole backyard would be a shriveled up disease ward.

It is funny to think that I showed grace through judgment.  I saved a garden by killing a tree.

I really wanted to 'heal' the tree with grace.   Luke 13:6-9 was my inspiration.  However, the more grace I showed, the more diseased it became.  That's because grace and mercy doesn't fix anything by itself.  Only God's grace and mercy fixes things.  It is God's goodness that does the work - grace, mercy and even judgment are just ways His goodness is revealed.  When He shows mercy it is because He is good.  When He judges it is because He is good.

Perhaps that is what Jesus is attempting to display here.  

In the tradition of the great prophets like Jeremiah (who smashed clay jars) and Isaiah (who wandered around naked), Jesus is bringing a parable to life here.  He is using prophetic drama to make a point about God's goodness.  The fig tree was a symbol of Israel (like the Eagle is for America).  When Jesus judges a fig tree on the side of the road for not having fruit He is saying something about Israel.

Remember that He just came from Jerusalem where religious leaders who claimed to be close to God were nothing more than money-grubbing, power-focused hypocrites (see yesterday's devotional).  The picture of the fig tree withering and dying is a visual of God's judgment.  Perhaps it is a foreshadowing of what was about to happen in 70 AD when Israel would be crushed by the Romans.  It could also be a reminder that God redeems the world through both mercy and judgment.

Sometimes we forget that grace is a vehicle of God's goodness; it is only part of the picture.  Jesus came the first time in humility as a human and subject Himself to the cross obedient to God's plan to redeem the world.  There is a part two, however, and it is called the judgment.  One day Christ will return and the plan is for Him to show His goodness through judging the world.

The tree of sin will be cut down.

The disease of sin will not spread to the whole garden.  In fact, the garden we were kicked out of in Genesis will return in the form of a city at some point . . . and the everlasting goodness of God will be brought on by His judgment.

This is why Jesus warns His followers to respond to God while we can.  Though we prefer to hear about grace, it is important to realize that grace can only be given by someone who has the power to judge.  

On His way to the cross, Jesus reminds us that He is also on His way to the throne.

The happy person welcomes both.

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