A TEMPLE AND A FIG TREE
Dear Father, you inhabit all times and places. I want to be your faithful child today, in this time and at this place.
Read MATTHEW 21:12–22
Jesus at the Temple
12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]”
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’[c]?”
17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
Jesus Curses a Fig Tree
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.’1
After entering Jerusalem, Jesus went, as would be expected, to his Father’s house.2 His action in clearing out the traders and moneychangers is prophetic, targeting the social injustice of Israel’s religious system.
The context is Isaiah 56:7, where God speaks of foreigners becoming his people and the nations gathering in his house to pray.3 Now, not only had the temple become a retail outlet but, tragically, it had become a bastion of racial prejudice, shattering God’s dream of an intercultural worshipping world. In this place, Jesus enacted inclusivity, welcoming the blind and lame who were considered unworthy of entry.4 It was thus a provocative challenge to Israel’s leaders, obsessed with ideas of ritual purity. Jesus’ healing of these people fulfills messianic hopes.5 It also sees them included in God’s worshipping community. Matthew describes Christ’s healings as ‘wonderful things’ (thaumasios); the children, no doubt delighted at Jesus’ healing power, continue to sing ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ (v 15).6 Instead of joining the children’s impromptu choir, however, the leaders are angry (aganakteō). This response of the leaders partly fulfills Jesus’ own words in Matthew 16:21 and 20:18.
After a night at Bethany, Jesus returned to the city. Matthew’s simplified version of the cursing of the fig tree shows Jesus’ genuine humanity. Seeking food, he curses the tree, causing it to wither instantly. This event symbolically enacts the withering of Judaism in rejection of its Messiah. Jesus does not develop this idea, however, but uses it as an opportunity to teach on the power of faith-filled prayer to move mountains. Implicitly, we readers are called to pray with faith.
Has your church become, in any way, a ‘den of robbers’ (v 13), or a bastion of monoculturalism and ethnocentrism? With faith, ask God how to move this mountain.
Gracious God, help me keep my focus on the real needs of real people. I desire above all else to seek and embrace your kingdom.
1 Ps 8:1,9 2 Luke 2:49 3 Isa 56:3,6,7 4 Donald Hagner, Matthew 14–28, WBC Vol 33B, Zondervan, 2012, p601 5 Isa 29:18; 35:5; 42:7 6 Ps 8:2
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