The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
We bring a lot of filter to how we view Jesus. For some of us, He is soft, gentle, quiet. For others, He seems to be a good teacher, a man of compassion, but maybe not divine. Still others see Him as an agent of social change, stern toward 'The Man' but easy on the rest of us.
I bring my own filters to my portrait of Him.
This may sound odd, but I actually have a tough time with movies and film portrayals of Him. I just know how my mind works. Once I see an actor playing the role of Christ, once I see a painting or a drawing, my mind gravitates to that image. I fill in the blanks~~kindness in His eyes, determination in the set of His mouth, hard work represented in the callouses of His hands.
Except it's not Him.
It's how we've chosen to represent Him.
I've been spending a lot of time in the Gospels again, looking over His resume, watching His career highs, His quotable quotes, His moments of happy and His moments of discouragement. And taken in large portions, the Gospels show me again that Jesus is far more complex, far more layered, far more other than our human representations and small verbal portraits can encapsulate.
What strikes me most in my present studying is the hard sayings of Jesus. The tough stuff. The things that resonate with the tang of discipline and sacrifice and change. We like to think that those things were reserved for the Pharisees. But I think we sometimes miss that Jesus was speaking to the devoted church-goers of His day, the folks who were showing up for every conference and lectureship, the guys who sat on the boards of their local synagogue, the ones on the planning committees.
And He wasn't winking at the ones He healed and to whom He extended forgiveness of sins. He didn't tell them to keep sitting in their brokenness and sin. He told them to get up. And to stop sinning.
There was a passage in Mark this week that kept drawing me back, kept me scratching my head. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem. He has just ridden through the streets in the fulfillment of Scripture, the crowds shouting 'Hosanna'. And He passes a fig tree. A fig tree minding its own business. But Jesus is hungry. He approaches the tree, hoping to find some fruit. But there is none. And Mark lets us know that figs weren't even in season.
See? A fig tree minding its own business, just going about the cycle of the calendar. No harm, no foul, right?
But Jesus, the One we like to see as cashmere to the roughness of life, curses the fig tree. Lets it have it. Verbal wales on it. And then moves on to drive the money-changers out of the Temple.
I was puzzled. And a little bothered. Because it just doesn't seem fair to curse a fig tree.
I ran through my commentaries, looking for some insight, some explanation that would allow me to continue to see Jesus as the snuggly purveyor of grace I prefer Him to be. Various commentators had all manner of clarification. The fig tree showed signs that it had never yielded fruit and never would. There's this one genus of fig trees that doesn't bloom when it should or is somewhat deceptive in its blossoms or was anemic in what it was producing.
Blah, blah, blah. You would think that Mark would have mentioned those factors if it was germane to the story.
We just can't let Jesus perplex us, can we? We just can't let Him push His foot over the line of our comfort.
He came as a revolutionary, a true patriot of the Eternal Kingdom.
He came to bring a sword.
And left us with the Holy Spirit to give comfort and counsel.
Ultimately, as I turned this passage over in my heart, I felt that I got to see a closer glimpse of this warrior Savior. He is into grace, but not excuses. He is into transparency but not apathy. He is into surrender but not fruitlessness.
That fig tree. It's potentially us. We'll be fruitful when....we'll produce for the Kingdom when....we'll show signs of life when....
And all the while there's a Carpenter striding across the hills of our hearts who has called us to more than the confines of our natures and bents and genetics. He calls us to be in fruit in every season of our lives. Bearing fruit. Always. Not just when conditions are right and the season is calibrated.
A big expectation on His part in a world that segments and excuses and justifies.
I'm getting to know Him a little better.
And He is fascinating.