DayBreaks for 08/23/11 – Of Fig Trees and Pharisees
In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, 19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. 20 The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” 21 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. 22 You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” – Matthew 21:18-22
I know that Jesus used this to teach a lesson to his disciples. The lesson Jesus draws is about faith and doubt. It is hard to miss that part of the story because Jesus makes it so explicit. Perhaps we should just leave it at that in the interest of pure exegesis.
But I think that there’s also another lesson that isn’t usually associated with this passage. Jesus looks at the tree and curses it because the tree was all show – and no substance. It was much like the Pharisees – with whom he’d had a confrontation the day before – beautiful on the outside, but there was no substance. They looked good, but weren’t good. It is so easy to get down on the Pharisees because Jesus allows us to see them as He saw them. Lest we get too carried away, however, I need to remember that it is probably easier to be like the Pharisees than different from them.
I try (who doesn’t?) to look good on the outside – physically, socially, intellectually and spiritually. When it comes to spiritual matters, I can say my “Praise the Lord!” when someone experiences something good, so that I sound like I’m always thinking about the Lord and how good He is (and He is!) Another case in point: I can pray in public when I go out with other Christians to eat at a restaurant, making a show of bowing my head so it’s obvious what I’m doing, even suggesting we pray if others don’t bring it up first…but what if in my heart of hearts it is all a show? I mean, if I don’t normally give thanks for each meal when I’m at home by myself or with my family, one must ask themselves the question: why am I doing this in public? What’s my motivation? Is it truly thankfulness, or am I just putting on a show because I think my Christian co-diners expect it, or because I want them to think I’m spiritual? And what about watching my language when I’m around other Christians, but not when I’m with foul-mouthed co-workers? Aren’t those things nothing more than pretending to be fruitful, to present a look of a fruitful Christian but not the reality in my heart?
Pharisees are a dime a dozen. Real followers, real disciples, are rare treasures. Which am I? Which are you?
PRAYER: Lord, we can be such hypocrites – and never even really think about how hypocritical we are! Open our eyes to our own attempts to appear holier than we are and humble us before your cross. Grow us into being real followers and not just show-boats. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2011 by Galen C. Dalrymple.
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