Jesus is a hot mess | Have faith in God

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is a hot mess.

After he curses a fig tree that has no fruit (because it’s not the season for figs), and after he drives out of the temple the sellers and buyers and moneychangers (who are going about their normal business), this is how the story winds down:

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.” (Mark 11:19-22)

Cursing, driving out, having faith. What are we supposed to make of this?

The Collect for the Renewal of Life, which we read on Mondays at Morning Prayer, seems to provide an interpretive key.

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Drive far from us all wrong desires

Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” is hungry and wants some figs. The fig tree is not in season, so he can’t have any figs. “Dammit,” he says, “I want some figs. Screw you, fig tree!”

Unreasonable expectations, right? Why would Jesus expect figs when they’re out of season?

He doesn’t live in the United States in the 21st century, after all — he doesn’t have Whole Foods or Piggly Wiggly. He can’t just have anything he wants anytime he wants.

But we can. So why are we so pissed off all the time?

Why are we so put out at the slightest inconvenience, so quick-tempered when things don’t go exactly as we want them to?

“But I want Fig Newtons!”

Incline our hearts to keep your law

Jesus brings that angry energy with him into the temple precinct. “I just want some peace and quiet, guys … is that too much to ask?”

“Doves! Get your doves here! Two birds for one gold zuz!”

“Gold changed here! One gold zuz, only $250! Today only!”

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. (Mark 11:15-18)

I’ll bet he really enjoyed a nice, quiet prayer time in the temple after that. What do you think?

Can’t you just picture him, rocking back and forth in his pew, muttering to himself?

“Now my foot hurts from where I kicked that guy’s table. And I think I have a splinter from that other guy’s stool.”

So serene, being in the “house of prayer for all the nations.” So soothing and spiritual.

Guide our feet into the way of peace

So yeah, now Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jerusalem and the next morning Peter can’t let the fig tree thing drop.

“Look,” he says, “here’s that withered old fig tree!”

“Dammit, Peter!” Jesus stops.


And with that, the anger dissipates. The restless, irritable, discontented rabbi breathes in and out, exhaling a prayer:

“Have faith in God.”

“Have faith in God.”

The disciples look at each other.

The rabbi smacks his forehead. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26)

Have faith in God

What is forgiving, anyway, but acknowledging that you didn’t get what you wanted?

“That company didn’t hire me.”

“My parents won’t let me do anything.”

“All I wanted was some peace and quiet.”

They frustrated me … they upset me … they paid no attention to my needs.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive.”

Letting go of your frustration and disappointment and anger may seem as impossible as making a mountain go soak its head, but if there’s anything that Jesus can teach us this morning, it’s that letting go is both necessary and within our reach.

If the Son of God himself was a hot mess sometimes, who are we to think we’re any better?

If the Word of God incarnate, the wisdom from on high let slip a curse or two in his frustration — “but I want figs!” — who are we to expect smooth sailing?

Whenever you stand praying, forgive — let go of what you want, admit that you are angry and out of sorts, and find instead cheerfulness and rejoicing.

Let go of your frustrations, and find instead the peace that passes understanding.

It makes about as much sense, seems about as ineffective, as telling a mountain it’s all wet.

But it turns the harsh light of morning back into a moment when we can hear the still, small voice of God as we breathe in and out, just like Jesus.

“Have faith in God.”

“Have faith in God.”


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