Faith is a complicated reality. With it, all things are possible. Without it the most important things we desire fail.
Faith is a complicated reality. With it, all things are possible. Without it the most important things we desire fail. This verse from Mark comes within the context of a short story about Jesus and the fig tree, that surrounds the recounting of his cleansing of the Temple of the moneychangers. It seems a strange little story at first, but let’s break it open a bit.
On the road out of Bethany, Jesus sees a fig tree in leaf in the distance. When he gets to it he finds that there is no fruit in it, but as the scripture tells us, “…it was not the season for figs.” (verse 13) Jesus, of course, would have known this fact. But as we see, he curses the tree: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (verse 14) This seems a strange response, and it troubles us at first. Why would Jesus do this? There must be an important reason, but we have to wait until the end of the story to see why.
The middle of this short story takes us to the Temple in Jerusalem and the noise and bustle of the marketplace-like atmosphere that has taken over this holiest of edifices in all of Israel. The Temple is supposed to be a place of worship. It is the house of God, after all. That is what the people “believe.” But, as we see, it has been turned into a den of thieves, moneychangers with their exorbitant prices, their lending practices and their usury. Like any market place we can imagine it filled with the din of trading and bargaining. Each stall owner, shouting to get the attention of passersby for their business. This is not a holy scene. This is not a scene that promotes the dignity and the piety of this place that is God’s house. Jesus, in righteous anger, goes through the stalls knocking tables over, driving the moneychangers out of the Temple grounds shouting, “It is written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Jesus is giving them (and us) a object lesson in faith here. When we lose our faith in God, everything else is cheapened, nothing but immediate gratification matters. We become proud, materialistic and lesser things become our gods. There can be no miracles in this.
Then we get to the end of the story that takes us back to the fig tree. Peter remembers Jesus’ words to the fig tree and is astonished to see it is withered from its very roots. Jesus reveals the lesson to be learned about faith here: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Faith this true, this deeply seeded in our souls, can “move mountains,” or bring about miracles of every kind. If our prayers are righteous, if our faith is true, we can trust that God will answer them. But the lesson is not over yet. He finishes this short story with an example of the greatest miracle that true faith can bring about. It is something more real and far more important than cursing fig trees or moving mountains. With real faith we can forgive those who have sinned against us. That act of faith in the love of God is the most powerful miracle we can pray for. To imitate the crucified Jesus in this way would be our greatest act of faith. In doing this, our own sins are forgiven. It is the supreme act of faith to love God so dearly as to forgive those who have sinned against us. In believing this way, our own sins are forgiven by our Father in heaven.
Lord, increase our faith in you so that we can forgive as we have been forgiven by you. Your death on the cross brought about the greatest miracle in history. In that act of forgiveness, you conquered sin and death, forever. Help us to have such faith, Lord. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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