The Easter story is an unexpected injection of hope in a world gone mad with power and violence.
Jesus found himself in the middle of much of it: on one hand he refused to be corralled by the politics of a militant empire; on the other hand he criticized the selfish actions of the religious elite.
He was a troublemaker and a threat to peace and safety.
So they killed him.
. . .
It’s a puzzling little side note; verging on bizarre.
It is the Tuesday before Jesus would die and he is hungry. He and his disciples are walking from Bethany to Jerusalem when they happen upon a fig tree along the road.
Normally in March the tree should have foliage and be in the early stages of growing fruit but we are told by Matthew and Mark that the tree is not seemingly producing figs.
So Jesus curses it.
Matthew and Mark have differing timelines but the outcome is the same – the fig tree withers and dies where it stands.
Weird, eh? Cursing a tree because you’re hungry? A lot of people like that story because … well, Jesus got mad.
They continue on into the city and find their way to the massive Temple complex where the religious leaders are selling sacrificial merchandise to the Jewish travellers coming into town for Passover.
Jesus loses it again and starts turning over tables and benches and chasing the profiteers away with the words, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.”
Weird, eh? Going off on innocent merchants doing temple business. A lot of people like that story because … well, Jesus got mad.
I have heard both of these stories used to justify self-righteous anger and physical aggression. Some say that we have implicit permission to lash out because Jesus lost his temper, cursed a tree, and aggressively kicked people out of the Temple.
To which I reply (and I can hear my mother’s voice): “Hold your horses”.
Let’s go back to the fig tree.
Trees are almost always symbolic in the Bible and there are a number of places where they are used as metaphors for God’s people (eg. Jeremiah 24:1-10; Hosea 9:10). In Micah 7:1 the writer is quite explicit that fruit represents the godliness and goodness in the land and mourns that there is no fruit to be found.
It is quite likely that Jesus was engaging in a vivid illustration for his disciples. Simply put, the people of God are not being fruitful and this makes them dead and useless.
Now the Temple.
Jesus moves immediately from cursing figs to ransacking the Temple. The Court of the Gentiles was the one place where outsiders were welcome but the burgeoning business of selling access to God left little room for outsiders.
In fact, notice that only one type of merchant is noted here – those selling doves. Why is this significant? Wealthier people could afford to buy bulls or sheep for sacrifices but doves were the only sacrifice that the poor could afford. Jesus’ anger is directed at those who are profiting from the spiritual needs of the poor.
The priests and teachers are selling God’s forgiveness and favour, and they have ordered the religious system in such a way that people have no option but to innocently accept it.
Yes, all you angry people, Jesus does act out in righteous violence on both of these occasions.
First because he is angry with his own people for being fruitless. His people who live shallow, selfish lives rather than lives that are patient, kind, loving, good, faithful, gentle, etc.
Green leaves with no fruit = useless. God’s people without fruit = dead.
Second, he’s angry with religious leadership because they have built walls between God and people. Even our churches, with their continual focus on marketing and money can be a barrier to his kingdom.
The kingdom of God has never needed money, buildings, talent, or programming, it has always been about the fruit of his people. Always. We best honour him by offering the fruit of ourselves. In fact, the Church is most healthy when each one does their part, and when it focuses on Jesus rather than empire building.
Yes, Jesus was violently angry on that Tuesday before his Crucifixion. But his anger was directed toward his own people who were abusing the grace of God. He was angry at the selfishness of those who were choking the needy world around them rather than blessing it in God’s name.
People like you and me?