Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Fig Tree

Once upon a time, a man was hungry. Spotting a fruit tree, he went over to it, but there was no fruit. So the man said to the tree: "May no one ever eat of your fruit again!"

Does this story sound familiar? How many electronic devices were told to "go to hell" today because of some sort of malfunction? Irrational anger is like a cherished human pastime. But what happens when "the man" becomes Jesus?
When he was going back to the city in the morning, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again." And immediately the fig tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed and said, "How was it that the fig tree withered immediately?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
Matthew 21:18-22
"Jesus' act seems arbitrary and ill-tempered, but it is a prophetic action similar to those of Old Testament prophets that vividly symbolize some part of their preaching," or so says the note attached to the above gospel passage. Why are we unwilling to concede that Jesus' behavior was exactly what it appeared to be: irrational anger? Is Jesus' explanation for his behavior remarkably different than the rationalizations we come up with for hitting inanimate objects that have somehow annoyed us, especially when our behavior was observed by a friend or colleague?

We claim to believe in a fully human Jesus. So why are we uncomfortable with the idea that he was imperfect in some ways, just like the rest of us? The first reading for Holy Thursday's evening Mass is the story of Passover from Exodus. Our Jewish siblings began their annual celebration of this event Monday night. Why are so many of us willing to believe in a God who commits mass slaughter of innocent children on our behalf, but not in one who chooses to share in all of our idiotic humanity?

Perhaps the simple truth is that we do not want Jesus to be like us. That is a terrifying reality. He loves and forgives those we do not want to love and forgive. It is easier to put Jesus on a pedestal. His perfection is the perfect excuse for not even trying to be like him. But then who exactly are we worshipping during this Holy Week?

"Why is it that all we remember about you is death and resurrection, miracles and commands? Where is your laughter? Where is your anger? Where is the way your eyes sparkled when you talked? What about the times you were sick or drunk or silly or stupid or spectacular? What about when you were alive? You weren’t just some sacrificial lamb. You were one of us … You are one of us."

There is so much beauty in that one little cursed fig tree. So why do we try to explain it away? Are we afraid of looking in the mirror and seeing Jesus staring back at us?