And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17).
On Monday of Jesus’ final week, the Lord returned to Jerusalem only to discover (as Mark presents the story) another disappointment. Within the temple wall, the outermost court (court of the gentiles) was as close as a non-Jew could get to the temple. Any attempt to get closer than that would result in capital punishment for the offending gentile.
The temple was to be place where everyone (regardless of nationality) could come worship the God of Israel. What Jesus found however was not a place of worship, but a shopping mall where hawkers sold their wares at inflated prices. The only spot where everyone could worship was not a place conducive to worship for anyone!
In a story told by all the gospel writers, Jesus cleared the mall of its merchants – much to the disappointment of the religious leadership profiting from the transactions (who begin to lay plans in earnest to kill him).
The road to God is intended to be marked and lined with the people of God who encourage all to come to God. There is only one road. There is neither provision nor permission to pioneer alternate routes. God’s people have to be sure they are on that road, and living in such a way that will mark it brightly and invitingly for all who would seek God – a road more easily traveled with the help of every pilgrim along the way.
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. 14 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).
This story is found only in Matthew and Mark and its lessons would be rather straight forward except for Mark’s cryptic little comment: “It was not the season for figs.”
Why expect figs on the tree if it wasn’t the season for figs?
After the fall harvest, Palestinian fig trees lose their leaves and begin to bear small buds that remain undeveloped until spring. In the early spring, before leaves appear, these buds begin to develop into an immature fruit called “paggim.” By the time the leaves appear again, the “paggim” is quite edible, but not yet a mature fig (see a reference to this “early fruit” in Song of Solomon 2:13). Thus the appearance of leaves on the fig tree proclaims the existence of fruit (however undeveloped). If there is no “paggim,” there will be no figs on the tree that season.
Jesus has been acclaimed by joyous throngs all the way to Jerusalem, but once at the city, there is no reception at all. The story of the fig tree presents another disappointment. After all Jesus has done, there ought to be at least a fledgling momentum of excitement anticipating the Kingdom. There is not. Israel is fruitless and stands condemned. So will the Church if she is unfruitful. No matter how immature, the Church of Christ should always be producing the fruit of Christ.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve”(Mark 11:11).
The story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem the week before Passover is told in all four gospel accounts, but Mark presents it differently. The other gospel writers have Jesus going to Jerusalem several times in his ministry and great things always happen. But if we only had Mark, we might think this was the Lord’s first visit. To the other gospel writers, this is a triumphal entry into Jerusalem with Jesus being proclaimed a king. But to Mark, the big parade seems over before they ever get to Jerusalem – and there is no mention of Jesus being proclaimed a “king.”
In Mark, Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is an anti-climax – a real balloon popper. Professor James Edwards puts it like this: “The whole scene comes to nothing. Like the seed in the parable of the sower that receives the word with joy but has no root and lasts but a short time, the crowd disperses as mysteriously as it assembled.”
The disappointment in this story continues with the next, but there is an additional point here: Christianity is more than excitement, hype, and parade. It is fundamentally about discipleship. There’s nothing wrong with the new, innovative, and exciting – unless their presence and our thirst for them distracts us from very difficult business of following and being Jesus in the world.
That is our calling.