Summary: Jesus curses both the fig tree and teh temple for their fruitlessness. Rather than standing for justice and assisting the poor, the temple has sided with Roman Imperialism and in doing so has promoted injustice.
Mark 11:12-21 “Justice versus Injustice”
What do you do if you do not reach a goal for which you were striving? Do you give up, try again, make a different goal, or do something else?
What do you do if your children fail to live up to your expectations—your realistic expectations? You may think they are capable of “B” work, but they consistently dwell in the “D-“ “F” range. Or, you think that they can tell time when you agree on a curfew and they consistently run an hour or two late.
The radical, revolutionary nature of Jesus surfaces during Holy Week, the final week of his life on earth. Goals have not been met. Jesus is often harshly critical of the ways of the world, as he calls humankind to something better and invites them to repent and live out their faith in the kingdom of God. We certainly see this in Jesus words and actions of Holy Week.
THE BEAUTY OF THE TEMPLE
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 50, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth” (vs. 2). King Solomon built a magnificent house of worship for the God of Israel. The temple was crafted with dazzling white marble, gold leaf and bronze vessels. The temple was an awesome sight. Though King Solomon’s temple was destroyed, it was rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, and again, during the time of Jesus, by Herod the Great. Herod’s temple was one of the most beautiful buildings in the Mid-East.
God meant for the temple and the worship of him to be more than just beautiful. It was to also be a shining light and a magnet, enlightening the world and drawing all people into the worship of the one true God. Jesus quotes both Isaiah and Jeremiah when he proclaims that God said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”
The temple was meant to be a place where one experienced God’s love and grace, where a benevolent God was worshipped with contrite hearts, and where people walked before God in justice, mercy and humility.
God’s goal for the temple and for his people was not met. Certainly it was beautiful, but it was not a house of prayer, or was it a shining light for all nations. The temple was an empty façade, and a mockery of God’s true worship. On Monday, Jesus criticized and condemned the temple. His words and actions were harsh, but they pointed out how depraved religious and political leaders and temple worship were.
There are two acts of judgment in this passage of Mark. The story of Jesus and the temple is sandwiched between two accounts of Jesus and a fig tree. The fig tree is meant to represent the temple. Like the temple, it was beautiful, but it was also fruitless. Because it was fruitless—because it was not doing what God meant for it to do—Jesus condemned the tree. On Tuesday when they were returning to Jerusalem, the disciples noticed that it was withered and dead—exactly like the temple would soon be.
The second judgment is Jesus’ actions within the temple. He overturned the tables of the money changes and animal salesmen. He prohibited merchants from traveling through the temple in search if riches and the expense of others.
Jesus condemned the temple because:
• The priests and leaders no longer served God, but rather Rome.
• Instead of following the path of love, justice, mercy and humility, the temple reflected the physical force and political power of Rome.
• The temple was no longer a place of prayer, but rather a place of corruption, and greed.
• The priests and temple leaders had forsaken the teachings of the Scriptures in exchange for personal comfort and riches—at the expense of others.
Jesus demonstrates the end of the temple system. It would be replaced by his body and blood. People would draw near to God through the cross, and go out in love demonstrating God’s grace for all people.
THE CHURCH AND CHRISTIANS TODAY
There is much that we can learn from Jesus’ words and action that impact our lives today. Thought fig trees might not be cursed and church tables overturned, Jesus desires his church not only to be beautiful, but also fruitful.
One of the things that we learn is that the church and state should be separate. Whenever the church becomes a servant of the state, it ceases to be the church of Christ. Of course it occurs in the state church, but it also happens in the United States when church mirrors society—when independence, strength and wealth are lifted up instead of interdependence, the power of love and generosity.
When the church seeks to be powerful and exercise its political and physical strength rather than the power of love and service, it draws near to Jesus’ rebuke.