Today’s Peanuts cartoon is probably one of the most profound I have seen in a long time. Charlie Brown laments that he does not fit in, that the world is just passing him by. Lucy, in her inimitable way, shows him the vastness of this world, the only one out there, and blasts him with, “WELL, LIVE IN IT, THEN!” In the sequence in Mark 11 that we have been going over, Jesus gives us a similar admonition in the example of the fig tree.
In Mark 11, Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly, on a donkey, a service animal. On His way back into Jerusalem, Mark tells us that Jesus curses a fig tree seemingly because the tree gives Jesus no fruit. This appears on the surface to be an impetuous and frivolous use of Jesus’ power as God. He then goes into the house of His Father, the God of Israel, the God of Judah, the God of the living (Mark 12:18-27), and cleans out the temple. A house of prayer, of worship, of sacrifice, the dwelling place of the Most High God on earth has been turned into a bazaar, an outdoor mall. They are, of course, doing all things useful for the business of the temple — people had to have change, needed a dove, a pigeon, goat, lamb or bull for sacrifice; grain for the grain offerings, oil, incense; while they gathered to listen to teachers of the law, and the prayers of the Levites, they needed food, water; some pilgrims traveled a long way, needed food for the journey home, maybe clothes; the priests and the scribes needed to eat, to have nice places to live, needed the finest clothes. It was all about the business of the temple and serving the God of Israel.
Another morning, the next morning perhaps, Jesus and His disciples pass by the tree again. The disciples are astonished that it is dead. What power Jesus has! Impetuous? Frivolous? Is this an exercise of power like the fictional stories of the boy Jesus discovering his powers and killing things only to make them alive again?? Hardly. The tree was dead already. It was spring time, and Jesus was looking for the early figs, a sign that the tree would bear fruit. If they did not appear in spring, there would be no fruit on the tree come harvest time. Jesus tells His disciples to have faith in God, and believe in the Word that He has given, that He can do what He says He can and will do, and it will be done. Do not trust in yourself, or the things and rulers of this world, because, like the tree, they are already dead. They are under the curse, the curse of the Law.
We get caught up with the Israelites on that pink cloud, thinking that we who are Christians are the chosen ones, special, saved simply because we bear the name. We get stuck behind the four walls of the church building, never venturing beyond our chosen ministry in the church, or beyond the walls of the church to share the Gospel with others. Or we get caught up in the business or busyness of the church — board meetings, programs, programs, programs, coffee hour, potlucks, concerts, causes — (Screwtape did tell his dear nephew Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, “Give them Christ and…. a cause ….a potluck ….Starbucks in the lobby …a meeting …a concert……. that will surely get them distracted!”) — that we forget to LIVE in this world as we are called to do.
Jesus tells us to Live, He says, Live in this world by faith in God, loving one another, and forgiving one another. That is showing MERCY, with the realization and understanding that if we do not show mercy to others, God will not show mercy to us. Jesus does not tell some of His disciples to live by faith and show mercy, He calls all of us to do so. The Body of Christ is big enough for each one of us, no matter what our talent. But if we do not LIVE as we are called to LIVE by Christ, we are already like that fig tree — dead and condemned. Thanks be to God that we can cry out with the son of Timaeus, “Lord! Have mercy on us!” And that recurring theme in Mark, “Lord, help my unbelief!”
So what is this living by faith, this showing mercy? That is the starting point for this week’s discussion in Mark. Over the last two weeks we have looked at some Old Testament passages that have shed some light on the concepts of Redemption — Jesus giving His life as a ransom for many — and the importance of “Trees” in Scripture. Redemption helps us to understand Mercy, and Trees help us understand faith. How? That is the question of the week. With redemption, we saw how God required all the firstborn males to be dedicated to Him, but the parents were required to buy them back from Him. Brothers or relatives who were given over to slavery for whatever reason — poor, too much debt — were required to be redeemed, bought back.
We went through the Tree passages rather quickly, but we saw how God uses trees to describe the righteous man, the nation of Israel, the nations of the world, how God plants the trees, how in the garden there was a tree that gave Life, and by a tree man received death.
The plan is to go over these two themes again, especially the trees. How does redemption — buying back — relate to Christ’s mercy toward us? The mercy we are to show others? Think of specific examples in connection with redemption — buying back — for the mercy we are to show others, especially for someone who has willingly given themselves over to some kind of vice. How well do we do it, show mercy even to our closest relatives? What do the examples of the trees say about God? What He expects from us? Who does the acting? What do they say about our lives as Christians? Where are we to look for life? Salvation?
If we get through these themes, we will then discuss Mark 11:27, through, hopefully, 12: 12. Pay attention here to where Jesus is during these discourses, and to the scripture reference to the cornerstone.
God willing, I will be able to make it for at least a portion of the study. Richard Jones has agreed to take the lead for the night. You are in capable hands. Be kind to him.