Encountering God and World in Scriptures

Light of truth

Lectio Divina – 24

Fr Martin Kallunkal

“Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. And he addressed the fig tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him saying this. […] Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots. Peter remembered. ‘Look, Rabbi,’ he said to Jesus, ‘the fig tree that you cursed has withered away.’ Jesus answered, ‘Have faith in God” (Mk 11:12-14; 20-22).

This is a real-life acted-out parable similar to the ones found in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Readers of all generations have found this nature miracle very perplexing. Sustained reflection is required for bringing out its hidden meaning. One might immediately notice the incongruity of Jesus’ search for figs when it was not the season for figs. Mark’s comment, “for it was not the season for figs,” is actually an indicator, as Ephrem the Syrian opined, that this parable has to be read symbolically. The word, ‘season,’ is the translation of the Greek term Kairos. Kairos denotes the appointed time in the divine economy; it is the harvest time when God acts. This has to be contrasted with chronos that denotes the chronological time. So, although it is not the season (chronologically) of figs, it is indeed the season (kairos) of fruits because the Son of God seeks for it – it happens in God’s time. The immediate target of the parable is Jerusalem. This is evident from the literary strategy of Sandwich that Mark uses in chapter 11. The cleansing of the temple (Mk 11:15-19) is presented in between the cursing of the fig tree (Mk 11:12-14) and its aftermath (Mk 11:20-26). This is quite instructive. In the Old Testament, fig tree symbolizes Israel (Jer 8:13, Ez 17:24, Hos 9:10, 16-17; Joel 1:7, Mic 7:1). Jesus who acts in continuity with the prophetic tradition curses the leafy fig tree for bearing no fruits. Fruitfulness is an image of adequate response to Jesus in faith (Mk 4:1-20, 12:1-12). Just like the leafy fig tree, the temple is full of activity but bears no fruits of true faith in God such as holiness, righteousness and justice. Jesus curses the temple for its spiritual barrenness, and foretells its total destruction (Mk 13:2). Just as the fig tree was miraculously withered to its root, history tells us that the temple was destroyed completely. At a still deeper level of symbolic thinking, one can see the barren fig tree, which symbolizes the temple that has become a robbers’ den, is being replaced by the new tree of life, namely, the cross of Christ. The barren fig tree is leafy, and, thus, attractive and deceptively promising. The cross is amazingly simple and unattractive; but, God gives new life in this sign.

Lord, I realize that I am the fig tree, my church-community is the fig tree, which you approach with hunger. You hunger for fruits of faith in God. But, what I have is a set of ritual acts that stems from and sustains my religious and social identity. Lord, now I know that my devotions are all leaves, and that my prayer brings no change in life. Lord, mountains of sins hinder my journey to you. I am still militantly self-righteous and full of false-hopes. Make me believe in you, Lord, my God, so that I may pray a word that moves mountains and dry up my false ego completely.

In verse 14, we read “His disciples heard Him say this;” and in verse 21, we read, “Peter remembered.” In fact, there is yet another occasion when Peter remembered (see Mk 14:72): Peter remembered that Jesus had told him about the denial. Lest we may be late like Peter, let us sit down to hear what Jesus has to tell us. Let us look around, assess the rise and fall of persons and traditions, and remember that spiritual barrenness will surely be followed by physical destruction.

Make a careful spiritual auditing of your routine religious activities.

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