Fig Tree-icide

Sometimes the gospel passages we read at Holy Mass can seem jumbled. And sometimes Lord Jesus seems to do inexplicable, arbitrary things.

Jumbled: He’s hungry. No fruit on the fig tree. Then He’s in Jerusalem, cleansing the Temple of moneychangers. The chief priests and scribes want Him dead. Next thing we know, He’s walking along again blithely with His disciples. He uses the withered fig tree to teach a lesson.

Jumbled. Also arbitrary: He cursed the fig tree for bearing no fruit during the no-fruit season. Then He uses this act of tree-icide to teach a lesson about forgiving enemies and humble prayer.

Jumbled. Arbitrary. Incongruous. Well…

Fig tree appears as a recurrent theme in the doctrine of Christ. 1) The parable of the barren fig tree teaches us about the immeasurable patience of Almighty God. The short-sighted owner wants to cut the tree down, but the sweet, old gardener says, Hold on. Let’s give the tree one more year.

2) The signs of a fig tree ripening—leaves sprouting, fruit buds appearing, growing, softening—Christ invokes all this as an image of the coming divine judgment. We see the signs of fruit coming, and we know what season it is. Just so, we see the signs that all of us will surely die, so we know that divine judgment will come.

figTherefore, I would humbly submit that nothing about today’s gospel passage is jumbled, nor arbitrary, nor incongruous.

The fact that unifies it all is the same fact that unifies our lives. Christ has redeemed us. His Precious Blood has cleansed us and made us ready to withstand divine judgment.

Because of this, the temple of our consciences can be cleansed by our encounters with Christ crucified in the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. And these encounters make us merciful and forgiving, so that we can pray with eager, open hearts for the salvation of all and the coming of the Kingdom.

Christ cursing that poor fig tree was not an act of hard-hearted contempt for the environment. Quite the contrary. He cares so much about us that our souls are like the figs He so desperately wants to have. We ripen for Him by our honest encounters with Divine Mercy. And we bear fruit as apostles of mercy by patiently forgiving others, bearing with them, loving them to the end.

My Transgressions

When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive your transgressions. (Mark 11:25)

The Lord Jesus exhorts us to pray with boundless confidence. He wants us to believe that our heavenly Father loves us so much that He will give us whatever we ask for. Boundless faith—the faith of a true friend and intimate of God—this opens the door of prayer.

Christ is talking to zealous believers here—prayer warriors, confirmed disciples.

At the end of this discourse, He slips in a wonderful little nugget: ‘You lovely, holy saints-in-the-making, beloved intimates of Mine, My chosen ones: remember that you stand guilty of transgressions against God.

‘Just like everybody. Just like the tax collector hunched over in the back of the Temple I just cleansed.’

With this little, last-minute reminder, the Lord shows us the way into His Heart. We enter His Heart when we acknowledge our solidarity with the sinful mass of human flesh, of which we form our part.

It is not for me to wonder if I am a sinner or not. I know that I am one. I pray, Lord, that You might enlighten my mind, so that I can know my sinful self better. I know that You forgive.

We Catholics don’t believe in magic. But one thing that works like magic is this:

I resent something someone else has done. I can’t bring myself to forgive.

I turn my mind from the business altogether. Instead, I say to the Lord: ‘Lord, I believe with all my heart that I have done wrongs which put You on the cross, even though I don’t even know the half of them. You suffered for me, and I praise You and bless You, and I admit that if I spent every minute of every day of my life thanking You for what You did to save me from the hellfire I deserve—it wouldn’t be anywhere near enough.’

I say this, and presto! Not as angry at the other guy as I was.