The Curmudgeon


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Mark 11 xii-xiv and xx-xxiv; Matthew 21 xviii-xxii

This unobtrusive incident (eight verses in Mark, five in Matthew) is central to Christ's ministry and illustrates the Gospel message at its most uncompromising. Jesus is hungry and sees a fig tree; on discovering that it has no figs, He curses the tree and it withers away.

Why should the Saviour destroy a fig tree which, in accordance with the laws laid down by God, does not bear figs when figs are not in season? As theologians, we are not permitted the vulgar and literalist rationalisation that Jesus was a fundamentalist bumpkin who didn't know when figs in the Jerusalem area became ripe. Rather, we must look to the Saviour's own interpretation of His miracle, whereby He informs the disciples that the power of belief will enable them not only to curse fig trees, but to move mountains as well.

The moral here is twofold. First, the Son of God curses and destroys a humble part of God's creation because it abides by God's law. Here we recognise the arbitrary and vindictive persecutor of the faithful servant Job, the divine génocidaire of the Flood and the Book of Joshua, the cruel prankster who ensured that Jephthah's daughter would be the first to greet her father. God's punishment, like His grace, is unreasoning and merciless, and descends entirely without reference to whether or not we keep His law.

Second, Jesus instructs His disciples that provided they pray in faith, whatever they demand will be theirs, even unto the casting of mountains into the sea. The fig tree's calvary therefore serves as an allegory, not of love or forgiveness, but of the same destructive power which smote Sodom and Gomorrah and which Jesus was forever wishing upon His enemies. More even than the formal adoption at His baptism, the blasting of the fig tree shows Jesus as the true Son of His Father in heaven.


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