This creative and conversational memoir style of blogging is embellished with photographs, sprightly texts, and gentle listening features. May these entries be as cathartic to read & to hear as they have been to conceive & to share. xo
Fig Trees and Condemnation, or Revelation (Or is it?): An Exercise in Reading Contextually
I’ve been struggling within “The Cursing of the Fig Tree” stories throughout the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark , Luke) we are going over in New Testament .
Even bought some dried figs for the occasion!
Within two of the three gospels, the Jesus portrayed, and his actions witnessed, finds me with a face a bit shriveled like my figs. I figured this would be a good comparison to wrestle with for my New Testament Project.
How could Jesus be so ...
...not compassionate? !
And to a tree? !
A sentient being only abiding by its nature!
And in Mark it reads, its not even the season!
And Jesus makes it barren!!!
Come on, Jesus! Isn’t that your fault for not preserving the figs when they were in season?! Or prepping food before you left?! Can’t you trust the Father to provide for you elsewhere without taking out your anger on some old or not-in-season trees?!
My defenses are up, if you couldn’t tell.
And I realize this is because,
I make myself the tree.
I see myself as the being Jesus is giving up on;
the one Jesus is cursing, because I might not be in my most flourishing of seasons.
Then I remember that to the original New Testament audience would look at these passages with different eyes than my own.
To start, the nature of the Gospels are not simply a tool for my own spiritual discernment--while some would argue they have the ability to be used as such-- the texts are stories of the man of Jesus and their testament to him being Messiah, Christ, Savior, Son of God, Son of Man, or Son of Human (as some scholars would suggest being more accurate). All familiar, yet packed, titles suggesting a variety of interpretations: person fulfilling the prophecy set forth in Torah; a person being of the same substance of God, embodying the will of God (suggested within the Gospel of John within the Septuagint); a new political/prophetic/social ruler.
These narratives tell the story of Jesus’ life in story form so to reveal the nature of his character. To the people of his first century time and culture, narratives were not about factual accuracy, as much as they were accumulated tales that described a person’s character. For example, a person would know little about the nature of my personality and belief systems by knowing my birthday, or what events occurred on my birthday, or the town I grew up in, where I went to school, what job positions I’ve had, etc. Knowing and describing a person within these ancient texts, is also regarded much differently than many of us today, submerged within our own psychological worlds. A person was not known for what the person thought, but what they said, and by what the person did.
And Jesus kills a tree, because he was hungry and it did not provide fruit for him! I don't care what superiority title he gets, that does not seem to correspond well with the peace-seeking, unlimited forgiveness proclaiming Jesus I have come to understand. "Lame", was one of my first thoughts.
So, I dug into the texts in the logical, more contextual way...
The ones I had the most difficulty with, the two titled,
“Jesus Cursing the Fig Tree”:
“In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.”
“ 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.”
The more version,or so I thought, within
--classic parable-happy Luke--Jesus is not actually the display-er of the cursing himself, but uses the method of Parable.
“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 round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
Almost all of my frustrations seemed to be reconciled within Luke's version. Having the curse not come from the hands and lips of Jesus; recognition of the tree's potential infertility; yet still giving a chance for yielding --with the manure and some time-- this version is a sigh of relief--at first glance! The section is even titled, “The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree” presupposing that the tree is already not yielding fruit, and can't seem to help but not doing so.
When I read around these singular portion of the scriptures, and recognized there are more similarities in themes of understanding and warning for a potential condemnation within all of the texts than originally anticipated.
Within the suspected-to-be-first of the gospels of Mark, one will tend to find a more earthy, Gentile focused version of Jesus apparent. According to Harper Collins Study Bible, the fig tree passage is one of five controversial stories of this gospel regarding Jesus and the religious authorities. Jesus followers from Jewish roots would have understood the symbolism of fig tree deriving from the symbolism within Jeremiah 8:13, a text upon the judgment of the unrepenting nation of Israel, especially pointed towards the priest, prophets and their wayward actions:
"When I wanted to gather them, says the Lord,
there are no grapes on the vine,
nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
and what I gave them has passed away from them."
This connection of conflict with authorities reinforced within the structure of the Scripture as the “Cursing of the Fig Tree” is sandwiched between “Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem”and “The Cleansing of The Temple” in Mark's text. This is a similar set up in Matthew, only the “Cursing of the Fig Tree" trails the tails of the Messiah’s entry and cleansing of the temple. Seemingly less glamorous, the entry within Mark speaks to the disregard leaders have for this holy man. The cleansing of the temple following the cursed tree is a more direct representation of the aggression Jesus takes out on the tree, as people of this century would have seen the connection between the fig tree, a holy tree, and the holy temple. The withering of one was the withering of the other, and the fruits might also signify the stagnant/fruitless actions of the authorities.
"But isn't that still harsh to the authorities?", I continue to whine to myself.
The more palatable excerpt, of not being the season for the fruits collates with the theme of divine timing (kairos) used throughout the book of Mark may even be suspect for the person missing their opportunity more than a kind of heavenly blinders placed upon them. Kairos is said to be God's appointed time set in place for specific events and miracles to come to fruition, first mentioned in Mark 1:15. The tree not being in season, suggests this was not the anointed time for the leaders of the nation to realize the nature of Jesus as Christ, relinquishing a kind of personal responsibility from these authorities, or, as Biblical Scholar Elizabeth Struthers Malbonmuch suggests, the authorities had neglected to act in their appointed time. Either of which being similar to the already "barren tree" alluded to within Luke.
The themes of combativeness towards authorities extend in Luke, but using a different literary method, and using a slightly different character-cloak for Jesus. Luke is more known for seeing Jesus as the Savior/Prophet, i.e. a social/religious ruler-- one bringing social change by pointing out the faults within the authorizes of the larger system. The mirroring of Jesus’s heart for the excluded is portrayed here within his softer approach to the fruitless tree more thoroughly than the other two readings, but yet the section prior to this parable is labeled the "Repenting and Perishing" of those who do not repent, particularly those in a place of governance. The theme of hospitality towards all resides, yet the warning to repent covers all disciples and authority figures alike.
With the Gospel of Matthew, authority is given to Jesus and only Jesus as this Jewish-centric gospel gives Jesus the titles of Messiah and Teacher. Streams of prioritizing righteousness, faith, and relinquishing of doubt press the reader of this book. The direct version of the fig tale is said to be the only one of Jesus' cursing miracles within the this gospel and is suggested to foretell the falling of the temple, and in turn the nation of Israel. The language used pumps the audience with assurance of Jesus as authority and the true teacher, for cursing in this culture would have been seen possible only by a person with divine right, pointing to Jesus' pure loyalty to God being that which enables him to do such an act (Brown, 112).
So, instead of me as that tree, its Israel /Religious Leaders/Temple as tree;
Jesus' curse seeming more like a warning to all against displaying lack of growth within their/its way of life; and the curse being a mechanism to display Jesus' connection to God, as well as foreshadow the falling of Israel. And to those whom it seems as though Jesus cursed from growth, I read it more now of the outward telling of the inward occurrence of the people of that nation than inevitable doom cast onto the people and holy place by Jesus himself.
I feel strangely less inclined to whine now,
and to see these scriptures as God, the Son of Human, or a Male Authority figure cursing my destiny, because I did not produce ideally, or because I was made karmically incapable of doing so.
Reading through the structural set up of the gospels, viewing the verses and sections preceding and proceeding the verses at focus, reveal some of major differences of the character type of Jesus attempting to be portrayed by the authors of each gospel, and the foreshadowing/messages Jesus was trying to give to the people of the time.
My mystical find-a-divine-message-from-God-anywhere-loving self enjoys God's kairos revealed through most sacred and ancient texts, as many might, but I recognize by reading around the scriptures only broadens the interpretation and understanding of that cosmic message bestowed upon me.
So, dig in, my friends!
It will expose the seeds,
which inevitably bares more fruit!
And if you can't find any fruit on the trees,
don't worry, you have the power to move mountains, so I'm sure you would have the power to turn that mountain into food--or in the least the capacity to make yourself not feeling hungry.
Those would be some more verses that follow, but now is not the divine time!
4/23/2014 09:55:45 am
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This creative and conversational memoir style of blogging is embellished with photographs, sprightly texts, and gentle listening features. May these entries be as cathartic to read & to hear as they have been to conceive & to share.
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