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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, March 26, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 11:12–25   

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)

The verses about Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple is sandwiched between two pieces of scripture about a fig tree. It’s a weird juxtaposition. First, Jesus and his disciples approach the fig tree. Jesus sees no fruit. He curses the tree: “May no one eat fruit from you again.” Then, he walks into the temple and becomes enraged because commerce is taking place, and sellers are taking advantage of people. He teaches, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” After that, he and the disciples leave and walk past the fig tree again—still with no fruit and what’s more, all of its leaves withered.

The story about the temple cleansing has been interpreted in more ways than any of us can count. There was a purpose to the presence of money changers around the temple. The pilgrims with less wealth needed to purchase an animal to offer as their sacrifice at the altar. The poorer people purchased whatever was cheapest, often doves. It was against temple policy to use Roman coins with graven images to make their purchase, and therefore, they had to change their money into a currency the temple would accept. Think about changing your money when you travel to a foreign country. I’m guessing what Jesus found were unjust exchange rates. And sellers taking advantage of customers.

It seems the message is that whenever our expression of faith becomes transactional we’d better take stock. These statements are transactional: I’ll give more money if they make the decision I think is right. I’ll withhold my money because of the decision I didn’t like. I’ll be a deacon if it means I can be an elder later. I’ll serve as chair so that I will be noticed.

Jesus always calls us back to the basics. What did God intend? A house of prayer where we can freely offer our hearts to the God who keeps calling us without any guarantee of getting something back in kind—except a love beyond measure.

Loving God, you know that it’s difficult for us to offer ourselves to you in perfect purity. We are so used to wanting something in return—protection, success, smooth sailing, health, wealth. Thank you for accepting our worship and our meager devotion, expecting nothing in return, and then allow us to be surprised by the grace that shows up. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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