Blogging the Bible 254 – Matthew 21 – Figtrees and Moneychangers

The strange story of the fruitless fig tree (21:18-22) has always troubled me. It’s an interlude between the episodes of Jesus’ confrontation with the Temple authorities, and becomes an occasion for teaching about faith, but it’s anyways seemed to me to show Jesus as bordering on the petulant (though perhaps it’s important that it shows he was genuinely affected by hunger!).
Reading it today, though, I was reminded of the parable read in church last Sunday, from Luke 13:6-9. I don’t know how legitimate it is to link these, but I can’t help doing it in my own mind, at least.
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” (Lk. 13:6-9).
Perhaps Matthew is telling us that the extra year for the fig tree of the Temple to bear fruit has passed without harvest. It’s time for it to be cut down.
The whole cluster of prophecies about the Messiah from Zechariah and Malachi crowd together now around Jesus, and his actions and teaching make it abundantly clear that the Temple as it has become, a centre of nationalistic, political power and profit-making, has lost its way.
The changing of ‘ordinary’ coins into special Temple coins for offering, and the sale of ‘pure’ animals for sacrifice in the courtyard as better than the offerings brought from one’s own flock are signs of a religious establishment that has combined the chance for profit with an attitude that religion is somehow a special sphere of activity, to be kept apart from the messiness of ‘ordinary’ life. But the whole idea of offerings and sacrifices involved bringing the best of your own produce or earnings, not buying something with a special High Priest’s Seal of Approval.
How do I try to separate my religion from the rest of life? They were never meant to be separate things.

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