Sunday, May 11, 2014

RYBS: A Hungry God

Read Your Bible Series - Week One

A Hungry God


We start our journey as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples.  My man Jesus immediately goes gangsta by ordering two of his boys to swipe someone's donkey:
"Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'"
One interesting thing about that phrase, "... and will send it back here shortly,"  is that you can find  in the New International Version of the Bible, but it cannot be found in the King James Version.  Take that as you will.  Also notice that nowhere in that chapter does gangsta Jesus ever order the two disciples to return that donkey to it's rightful owner.  Nice.

Moving on...

While receiving very high praise from some of the locals, Jesus then goes full diva as he rides his stolen donkey into Jerusalem.  But *SPOILER ALERT*, it was too late to cause any trouble at the temple courts just yet, so he and his boys set out to Bethany.

This is where it gets really interesting.  Jesus, being God in human form, wakes up with a rumbly in his tumbly.  So as he and his merry band, "The Twelve", are leaving Bethany, Jesus spies a fig tree covered in leaves:
"The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs."
You'll note that the last portion of this verse mentions that our omnipotent hero had to know that the season was all wrong, and this tree could not possibly be bearing fruit even if its outward appearance suggested otherwise.  But this was a hungry Jesus, and he was willing to give the tree the benefit of the doubt.

Could you imagine the tension?  I mean, by now that nervous little fig tree had to have been sapping bullets!  And then the unthinkable happens (warning for the squeamish, this gets a little brutal):
"Then he said to the tree, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again.' And his disciples heard him say it."
Did the creator of the universe do what I think he just did?  Hold onto your popcorn, because we'll have to wait and see...  Mark continues:
"On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts 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.' The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city."
Thus, it looks like Jesus was finally able to show up on time and make a scene at the temple court.  And he did so by flipping tables.

Hungry Jesus -->        (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻┻

And then the story jumps right back to that indignant fig tree from the day before - the one that had the audacity to lack any ripened figs for Hungry Jesus.  Indeed, it seems that according to Mark, that foolhardy fig tree was at the business end of an omnibenevolent, albeit emotional, deity who - on an empty stomach - committed an arborilogical atrocity:
"In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!'
'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered. 'Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.'"
One must assume that this chain of violence all started because some silly fig tree didn't bother to have figs ready for its creator.  Well, that and none of these guys bothered to take a few minutes to pack a knapsack the night before, or step forward to remind Jesus that he once fed five thousand people with just a few fish and couple of loaves of bread...

Moving on to the version of the story told in Matthew, you can see that it starts off just about the same as the story told in Mark.  Jesus swipes a donkey, goes full diva, yadda yadda yadda.  But the story in Matthew has an interesting change to the chain of events.  First, Jesus arrives to the temple court with ample time to start maniacally flipping tables and causing a commotion.  Second, he does something useful by performing several productive miracles between various table flips (Hooray!  Universal health care!  Healing the blind and the lame!!!)  And third, he doesn't bother to kill the fig tree until the next morning:
"Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.' The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' they were indignant. 'Do you hear what these children are saying?' they asked him. 'Yes,' replied Jesus, 'have you never read, "From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise"?' And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
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."
Now, it could very well be that the reason the story of the fig tree changed in Matthew is because the author of Matthew knew how heinous it was to completely plagiarize someone else's work.  But then again these guys were writers and like any good writer they would recognize a perfect opportunity to embellish a story.  Because let's be rational about this; when you're a writer telling a story about God walking around on the Earth, the narrative has a bit more pizzazz if, "The Twelve" actually witnessed the fig tree wither.

*          *          *          *          *

There are a multitude of Sunday sermons and religious essays written by apologists over the years that try to interpret what it was that Jesus was actually doing by killing that fig tree.  Apologists will tell you that the tree was meant as a symbol of the antisemitism that was filtering through the area.  The story of this "miracle" was a metaphor for a cursed religion that did not recognize the messianic Christ.  Further, they’ll tell you that this story can also be applied toward a person of faith that is not giving his or her best effort toward the word of God.

But if that was the case, why even take the time to mention that Jesus was hungry?  And why would the creator of the Universe need to kill a tree just to make some antisemitic point?  Sure, he didn't take an axe to the tree, but he might as well have done so because the end result was the same.  Plus, didn't Jesus say in Matthew 7 that a tree that does not bear good fruit should be cut down and thrown into the fire?

More importantly, the guy could have at least been as merciful as, say, Oscar Schindler and used one of his 37 miracles to save a life or heal another blind person.  Instead, the creator of the Universe, the first mover, the King of Kings decided to kill a tree to make his point.  Brilliant.

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