November 1, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“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.” (Mark 11.13,14)
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes gathered from a bramble bush. For out of a good heart comes the good treasure producing good; and out of an evil heart comes the intent to use its treasure to prosper evil. The abundance of the heart will be revealed in the words that are produced” (Luke 6.43-45).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew includes a similar text to that in Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching concerning “a tree is known by its fruit.” But, Mark, the first written gospel, does not include this teaching as instruction. He does present it by application. And the story of the cursed fig tree is poignantly germane to the context in which Mark presents it. In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, we hear the words of Jesus early on in His ministry. Both set the teaching in the midst of a greater collections of lessons spoken to a vast number of people who have gathered to hear this good news of the Kingdom of God. We might say it was a Discipleship Class 101 for seekers. There are lots of information given in a relatively short amount of time. Do not be fooled, neither Matthew nor Luke were seen taking notes during this presentation to preserve them for later publishing. It is doubtful that Luke was even present and the authorship of Matthew was probably not the Apostle Matthew but more likely a disciple of Matthew. As both Matthew and Luke were cultivating converts to The Way faith communities (Matthew to Jewish converts and Luke to Gentile converts), the basic outline of what makes for righteous living is critical. The depth of explanation and expansion of the concept would come later as in true rabbinic style, But, Mark, the amanuensis of Peter, had no such luxury in his presentation of the gospel of Jesus as it was spoken by Peter. The key word throughout the gospel written by Mark was immediately. Mark’s writing carried with it a sense of urgency so great we might well feel an emergency situation was at hand. And such an emergency existed. Paul had already been beheaded in Rome at the order of the Emperor. While his letters were beginning to have a more expansive broadcast through such cohorts as Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla as to the next level of gospel rendering of the theology of the cross and the response of living empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit via the resurrection good news, there was no story of “how it all began.” And while Paul was a self-proclaimed apostle due to his “eye witness account of the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road” validated by the acceptance of him in Ananias home according to the order of Christ in divine revelation, it was Peter who led the Church by an authentic encounter with Jesus in life, death and resurrection. With Paul removed from the horizon of the Church growth movement, it was now Peter who found himself in the cross-hairs of the Emperor’s attack. Christianity, better known as the Way, was a powerful liberation movement within the empire. Just as the teachers of the Law, Temple leadership, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and then the Judaizers perceived the gospel of Jesus as a threat to the Jewish power community, so did the Emperor feel the imminent threat of this gospel in his own realm. The number of people believing in and proclaiming a similar verbiage as Jesus Himself who declared before Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” was growing and showed no sign of decreasing even in the midst of the threat of persecution. The days of Peter were now numbered. The story of Jesus had to be captured in more than the oral traditions which were shared from each faith community built up by the ministry of the commissioned disciples and their proteges. And such impetus comes from far more than the stories of Jesus in grand teachings but in life applications as the lessons were put into real life context. These were not just nice sayings and stories told by Jesus. These were teachings of “faith in action and accountability to the truth.”
Such teaching application is needed in today’s world, too. We live in a time of immediacy. The urgency of the Great Commission now borders again on the emergency situation predicted by Jesus Himself as to the “appearance of fruitfulness and truthfulness” which disguised the reality of fruitlessness and the barrenness of the lie. The application of “a tree shall be known by its fruit” is contextually different in Mark and for good reason. In order to grasp this difference, we have to embrace the sitz im leben, or the current situation, in which it was presented. In Mark, Jesus and the disciples were on their way from Bethany to Jerusalem. We are being led to the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry as the Son of Mary and Joseph. If we remember when Jesus was twelve, Mary and Joseph found him not in their company headed back to Nazareth following what was probably a Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem but in the Temple sitting among the elders teaching. I have no doubt that the scene was not missed by the Chief Priest and his colleagues. The wisdom of this boy, perhaps it was following His bar-mitzvah, was apparent. He was not merely reciting scriptures from the Law and the Prophets as was the learned style of preparation but expounding upon them as a rabbi. One could not become a rabbi until they were thirty years of age. It was not a fact of the gospel to be overlooked that Jesus would not be heard of again until His 30th birthday when He entered into the Jordan River to be baptized for the fulfillment of “all righteousness” and there began His teaching ministry. Now, Mark, via Peter, tells of this final conflict with a fruitless generation of leaders who guided Israel in being compromised for the sake of survival with an affinity for Rome. Layer such a view with perhaps a political commentary by Peter of the Church approaching the steps of Rome and the “Temple of the Emperor” to declare it, too, being equally fruitless when it comes to declaring the glory of God and the blessing of living righteously before Him. And here we are again, in the history of the world and especially here in the United States of America, bearing the same opportunity to witness the truth of the living in a kingdom not of this world over and against that which promotes the lie under the cover of “good news.” It is not so hidden, however. The wolf’s sheeps’ clothing has slipped and the wolves are exposed along with the fear of accountability that is rising to a frenetic pace. And while we know “a tree will be known by its fruit” are we willing to speak the truth in the midst of all people concerning “the emperor’s new clothes.” Will we seek to be fruitbearing in and out of season knowing the seasons of the world are far different than the seasons of the earth? Will we be known by the fruit we bear, the willingness to be pruned for great fruit bearing which is praising honoring God who in Christ has saved us and shown us a better way of living?
There is much to consider before next weeks mid-term election and I will do my best to share it and provide perspective on it for the sake of those who may be searching for ways to share it as well.
By Your Spirit we are made full of the fruit which speaks to authentic living even in desolate and desperate times. You have promised not to leave us empty nor forsake us in our time of need. You have shown us that our want ought to be based in the truth of Your design for mercy, grace and love to be in abundance transforming the world with the renewal of right thinking and right action in Jesus’ name. AMEN.