15 November 2018

Welcome to Thursday’s Podcast. Our reading today is Matthew 21: 18-32 but today I’m going to read v19:

Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.

REFLECTION:

‘You’ll never grow figs in Sheffield’ someone once said to me a year ago.

Turns out you can!

Someone I know had a fig tree in a pot in their garden patio. It hadn’t grown any fruit in years.

“It’s dead,” they said. “We’re going to throw it out,” they said. “Can I have it?” I said.

So we got it, I planted in the garden and put loads of compost round it. Read about fig trees on the internet. Learned a few facts from YouTube.

Do you know what?

After years and years of no fruit, this summer it grew figs (I think the hot summer definitely helped).

The people who had given me the fig tree weren’t too impressed.

Here’s the thing: Figs trees have one purpose – to grow figs. Even in Sheffield.

With the right conditions: compost, water, sun and soil – fruit is inevitable.

In today’s passage Jesus interacts with a fig tree.

It’s the cool of the morning sun and a hungry Jesus looks for food. Fresh figs are tasty and a great source of not only food but hydration.

It’s worth saying that fig trees and also grape vines are well known fruiting plants that feature often through metaphor a lot in the Bible. They often refer to a deeper meaning – fruit refers to the side effect of God’s activity in our lives – it’s how we measure, if we can, God in us. This was illustrated to me many years ago when I did a General Studies Project on something called the ‘Toronto Blessing’ when God was moving powerfully back in the early 90s. As part of my research I remember something a wise man told me: if someone is claiming something from God ‘you must look for the fruit…’

So a hungry Jesus finds a fig tree with no fruit. He curses it. It’s a goner.

This seems really random. What a pointless thing to do!

But this short account needs to be understood in conjunction with Jesus’ time in the Temple – particularly the famous turning over of the tables which we read yesterday.

Theologian Tom Wright says that while Jesus is challenging the commercialisation of the Temple – the focal point of worship in Israel – he’s really pointing the finger that those who are gaining funds and support for their desire to reform Israel – taking destiny into their own hands: plotting, planning and scheming to deliver change in Israel – through murky politics that would suit a House of Cards episode or some twisted Brexit plot.

Jesus challenges their striving. Striving is when we operate without God. We try and force. We strain. We plot. We must make this happen by ourselves.

Striving is easy. I know I do it.

It’s human nature. It stems from the belief that we are really masters of our own destiny. We fix our lives. Can we really intervene anyway?

Where does this come from?

We find this at the very beginning of the Bible – known biblically as the ‘fall’ where humans turn away from God and choose to trust ourselves rather than God – we become the masters of our own lives instead of trusting God which is life of faith.

When we strive we walk in our own efforts. Approach situations from the point of pragmatism: what is within my power to fix this?

When we walk in a faith mindset – we start with our identity – yes, I’m a sinner (keeping it Biblical) but I’m not left there – I’m a co-heir with Christ.

When facing an impossible situation – we call out to God, our father, the King and walk in faith – the unseen realm. In that realm we can do all kinds of things – unimaginable – that’s fruit.

How do we get that?

We abide.

We lean in.

We put wedges in our day – however small – to remind us of who we are. To bring to Him our lives and those around us. We walk the day with our Father.

PRAYER:

Lord we thank you for this day. May we abide in you and grow fruit.

Amen.

READING: Matthew 21: 18-32

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig-tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.

Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you this authority?’

Jesus replied, ‘I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?’

They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”– we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’

So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’

Then he said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

‘What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”

‘“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

‘Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.

‘Which of the two did what his father wanted?’

‘The first,’ they answered.

Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.