We continue our series journeying through the Gospel of Mark, focusing on Jesus’ radical way of defying social norms and religious traditions. In doing so, Jesus teaches us a way of grace and love.
Each week, we will include additional readings to help us work through the entire Gospel of Mark.
- MARK 11:1-14
- MARK 11:15-33
- MARK 12:1-17
- MARK 12:18-34
- MARK 12:35-44
The scripture for this Sunday is a bit broken up, and part of what we’re exploring is just a portion of a Biblical literary device known academically as a “Markan Frame.” You may recall that we explored this in our sermon series, The Last Week, based on the book of the same title by Marcus Borg. The author of the Gospel of Mark often uses this device to frame or differentiate perspective on a parable or narrative.
This text takes the “frames” (the parts of stories before and after another narrative) from before and after Jesus throwing moneychangers out of the Temple. Separating this out helps us to focus on what we might discern from this focused portion of the text.
Mark 11:12-14, 20-24; 13:28-31 (CEB)
12The next day, after leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. 14So he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.
20Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look how the fig tree you cursed has dried up.”
22Jesus responded to them, “Have faith in God! 23I assure you that whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea’—and doesn’t waver but believes that what is said will really happen—it will happen. 24Therefore I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you.
28“Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
Consider these questions:
- What do you think of the initial action of Jesus cursing the fig tree? Do you find this surprising? Troubling? What does it mean for you?
- After this happens, Jesus and the disciples leave and then return. When they do, they find the tree withered. How does Jesus’ turn to a teaching about faith connect with the fig tree?
- Jesus teaches in verse 24 that, “whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you.” Does this mean that prayer is like a magic wishing lamp? Or is prayer something else? What do you think Jesus is saying here? What does prayer mean for you?
Post-Worship Update on 9/3
Audio from the sermon can be heard below. Because this service was held outdoors, no video is available.
Sunday’s message was unusual for me as a preacher. I more often tend to get into details of a text—a micro approach rather than a macro approach. And yet the broader macro approach is what I attempted in this message.
The framing that the author of this Gospel utilizes not only wraps two parts of the fig tree story around the cleansing of the Temple, but those two stories are the beginning frame whose bookend is at the tail end of the 13th chapter. In between are the following stories:
- Jesus’ authority is questioned by the chief priests, legal experts, and elders (Mark 11:27-33)
- the parable of the tenant farmers, which is overtly told against these same religious leaders (Mark 12:1-12)
- the question about taxes (Mark 12:13-17)
- the Sadducees’ question about resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)
- the most important commandment (Mark 12:28-34
- Jesus criticizes the legal experts (Mark 12:35-40)
- the widow’s contribution (Mark 12:41-44)
- Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-4)
- Mark’s “mini-apocalypse” (Mark 13:5-27)
In these stories and parables, we see lessons of love interlaced with the reminder to look beyond our human tendencies and limitations, to look at divine things rather than earthly things, to seek God first, to radically adjust our perspective. These ideas taken in full can be overwhelming, perhaps shocking. This certainly requires a change of heart. This surely requires and inward transformation. Indeed, I believe this is exactly what Jesus asks of us all.
And when we accept and experience this inward transformation, I believe that we naturally respond. We change. We live the love that has changed us. But this is not a permanent response. No, we must continually choose to live as though we are transformed, to resist falling back into old patterns and behaviors. But when we live as though Christ as changed us, we take part in transforming the world.
Consider these questions:
- What do you experience in reading scripture in this way, intentionally exploring the style and rhetoric and language and form? Does this bring any new knowledge and understanding? Does it bring questions? How does your spirit respond when you read differently?
- Where do you most acutely feel Christ’s transforming love within you? How does this affect you? How do you feel called to respond?