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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 11:12–26

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

     ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
     But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (NRSV)

There’s much in this passage that’s hard to sit with. First, Jesus curses a fig tree (pretty effectively, based on verse 20) for having no fruit even though it wasn’t the right season for figs. Then he causes a big ruckus in the temple despite the fact that people who came from great distances had to buy animals when they got there in order fulfill their sacrificial obligation. He goes on to say that if we believe we will get what we pray for, we will. (This feels rather Wizard of Oz to me.) But the real kicker comes in the last verse. God will forgive our sins if we have forgiven everybody with whom we have “an issue.”

Seriously? Is the message here that we’re supposed to defy the laws of nature, reject religious ritual, adopt magical thinking, and be superhuman in our capacity to excuse others?

Yes. And no. When Jesus tells the apostles (and us), “Have faith in God,” he’s reminding them (and us) of something critical. We will see miracles. The immutable institutions and traditions of our life will change. Prayers will be answered. We will do, and be, more than we thought we could. But it is not us doing the transformative and wondrous work. It’s God. It’s not us who have to know the precise outcome before we begin a good work. That’s God, too. When we judge something too big or grand or difficult or unlikely to pray about, it’s not. We can be audacious in our prayer, as long as we remember that God’s grace and power are not ours to control. Rather they are ours to marvel at, be grateful for, and acknowledge.

God beyond all that I can imagine, help me to rely on you when I think I cannot do what is being asked of me or that the world cannot change. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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