I’m sure all of us have seen pictures of an empty stadium immediately after a big game and the crowds of people have dissipated. Empty drink cups and pieces of paper are scattered and blowing everywhere. Pieces of uneaten hotdog and popcorn blanket the floor. Now image that you went to visit you parents house and it looked like this. You’d be horrified. Or what if you showed up at church on Sunday to this?
Often times when we read the story of Psalm Sunday we read about Jesus riding on the back of an unbroken colt and people spreading their cloaks and psalm branches on the road in front of him. We read of his triumphant entry. But what gets skipped over is the verse that follows. It says “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”. Mark 11:11
I imagine that what Jesus saw that night was a lot like what we see in an empty stadium, after a game, before it has been cleaned. Can you imagine how it must have made him feel to see his Father’s house desecrated in such a way? Not just with paper and garbage, but with animal dung too. You know how sometimes you get so angry you can’t let something go? Jesus wasn’t just the Son of God, he was the Son of Man. As such I’m sure he experienced all of the same range of very human emotions we do. I imagine he must have spent much of that night stewing about what he saw in the temple, because the next morning he cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit (metaphor?) and then, “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them he said, ‘Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:15-17
I wrote about this today because that one line stood out to me. Jesus, the night of his triumphant entry, going to God’s house and “looking around at everything”. This was the beginning of the end for Jesus and part of me wonders if what he was seeking was the kind of experience we get, that feeling of awe when we enter a beautiful old church and look at at the fresco’s on the ceiling, the ornate wood carvings, the beautiful stained glass windows. And how heartbroken he must have felt to get exactly the opposite experience.
And then, Jesus was angry and he wasn’t afraid to show it. He didn’t hide his emotions behind a mask of humility. He was honest about his feelings
I think that it is stories like this that help to make Jesus relatable…human. Of course he performed so many amazing miracles, but he also laughed and cried and got angry, just like we do. I love that about our God. He lowered himself to our level to help us understand his love for us and to encourage us to seek him. To let us know that he absolutely understands what we are going through, because he has walked in our shoes.
In my mind, this story ends the following morning, after Jesus has cleansed the temple, and they walk by the same fig tree that he had cursed the day before. It was withered from the roots up. When Peter remarks on this, Jesus responds with the following “Have faith in God.” That fig tree is not only a metaphor for the Jewish community at the time of Jesus, it is a metaphor for our lives too. While we might appear healthy and vibrant, we need faith to actually bear fruit. Without it we will wither and die.
“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:23,24
As we enter into the holiday season, and the wonder of Christmas fills our lives I pray that this becomes a season of refreshment for you. I pray that you allow Jesus to cleanse your heart and drive out all of the garbage, and I pray that you find your faith renewed and it helps you to just Believe!