Mark 11: 12-19 & John 12:20-26
The Gospel of Mark traces the journey of Jesus for the week, while the Gospel of John during the Passion narrative focuses more on the Farewell Discourse and Last Supper narrative leading up to the Crucifixion. Our readings for today show the divergence, with Mark speaking about the Temple while John speaks of the ministry to the Greeks.
Whereas the Gospel’s of Matthew and Luke have Jesus enter Jersusalem and immediately go to the Temple to overturn tables etc, in Mark, the Temple scene occurs the following day. But before the Temple scene, there is the interesting exchange with a fig tree to recount. Jesus, traveling once again from Bethany to Jerusalem, which is not small journey, is hungry and finds a fig tree on the way. He attempts to pick some fruit of the tree, not finding any, he curses the tree. Later, when the disciples pass the same tree, it is withered.
The question of bearing fruit is truly the point of the stories for today. When Jesus enters the temple and casts out vendors etc, he is not condemning the activities at the Temple, for they are required. Sacrifices are needed, money needs to be changed. The question needs to be asked, why was Jesus upset? We have no clear answers this but perhaps what sparked the rage of Jesus was too much emphasis on the merchantilism of the Temple. Maybe there were business activities that were occuring in the Temple that was not part of the Temple activity, or perhaps people were being gouged on prices for the things that were needed to properly worship at the Temple.
The connection with the fig tree helps to call into question how should Israel be being fruit? Were the activities at the Temple about bearing fruit? Was the actual worship at the Temple bearing fruit? Was Israel, in its worship of God, bearing fruit? And most importantly, are we bearing fruit? Or are we like the fig tree, empty?
Notice, that while Mark emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, who is hungry and looks for a fig to eat, the Gospel of John again speaks of the Son of Man, the son of the Father who will be exalted. When the Greeks come to Jesus, he speaks of the need to follow him in their lives and sufferings. Notice, there is no talk about the Temple or following the Torah. The Gospel of John demonstrates how the Church had shifted its emphasis from the Jews to the Gentiles. Yet the challenge is to bear fruit. Notice the symbolism of the seed of grain that must die in order to bear fruit. The call of the faithful, whether Jew or Gentile is to bear fruit.
Are we like the fig tree? Or the grain that falls to the ground?