Mark 11 – Fig, You’re Out: A Puzzle

Mark 11 Bible with Simple Truth Organic Marcona Almond Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateSimple Truth Organic 73% Cacao Marcona Almond Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageMark 11

As I’ve noted before, Mark happens fast. He keeps introducing things that I have to backtrack to discuss, because I didn’t have time and space to talk about them when they first showed up. For instance: throughout the last two chapters, he’s been hinting at his coming death, and yesterday, he identified Jerusalem as his final destination. His opponents have set a trap, and he intends to walk right into it, throwing the fight with the Pharisees in order to win a larger war. Well, today we’re in Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the end.

Jesus doesn’t stay in Jerusalem while he’s in Jerusalem, though. While he spends his days in the holy city, wrecking shop in the temple and throwing theological cross counters at the religious authorities, at night he and the disciples rest their heads the nearby city of Bethany. With only a mile or two between the two cities, it’d be a quick walk even on the uphill road into Jerusalem. The name “Bethany” may come from the Hebrew “bet t’eina,” meaning “house of figs,” and Mark also mentions another nearby town, Bethphage, whose name appears to be the Aramaic equivalent: bet paghah, “house of unripe figs.” So let’s talk about figs.

On one of these morning hikes from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus gets hungry. The road happens to pass within sight of a fig tree, but wouldn’t you know it, figs only grow in the fall, and it ain’t fall. Jesus does the ancient Jewish equivalent of cussing out the fig tree, telling it: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (14). A fair punishment for failing to bear figs when it’s not fig season, don’t you think?

And sure enough, no one eats fruit from it ever again. The next day, they make the same journey up to Jerusalem, and Mark reports: “As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up” (20). When Peter points out, Jesus tells him, “When you have faith, you can ask God for all kinds of crazy things! You can tell mountains to go jump in the sea, and if you’re truly convinced they’ll obey, they’ll straight-up do it!” (22-24). Which would sound like utter lunacy, had Jesus not just told a fig tree to go crawl in a hole and die, and now the fig tree is dead.

Forget cans of worms. This notion of asking in faith and receiving has the potential to open entire floodgates of annelids, especially for those who have begged God to heal themselves or family members and gotten nothing back. Others smarter than I have given the topic the thorough treatment it deserves in books and extended essays. But here’s what I can offer: it’s an oversimplification to say that the principle here is “conviction trumps reality.”

In practice, you can’t just make yourself believe whatever. If I write that this blog post doesn’t exist, you’re not going to believe me, even if you wish Chocolate Book were erased from the face of the internet. The act of reading my lie would convince you that my blog is all too real. But again, Jesus isn’t talking about simple belief here. He’s talking about πίστις (pistis): faith, trust, reliance. When you trust God, when you make seeking his will and following his lead a part of your life, you put yourself in contact with the Reality who made reality what it is. And God made all the conditions that make Chocolate Book possible. If he wanted it gone, he could crash all the servers hosting it, corrupting only those specific sectors of each hard drive dedicated to storing all its content. He could wipe it out with the surgical precision of a messiah cursing a fig tree–and if that’s what he wanted to do and you asked him to do it, he would jump at the chance.

When you trust God, you come into a deeper understanding of his nature and his will. And more and more, when you ask him for things, you find yourself asking for the things that he’s just waiting to do. And sometimes those things are crazy Hail-Mary long shots like finally getting rid of the demon that’s plagued your son since early childhood–but I repeat myself.

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