Posted by: pmarkrobb | March 25, 2013

false self

On the final Monday of his earthly life, Jesus left no doubt as to where He stood on appearances and what his Father’s house was to be.  A fig in full leaf served as bookends for a day that was defined by His house cleaning at the Temple.  On the surface, the seemingly minor issue of phantom fruit and the major eradication of the cancer that had infected God’s house might seem unrelated, but upon closer scrutiny, they both reveal the truth and face of the false self, both in our individual lives and our communities of worship.

Jesus makes a bold statement to his disciples as they walk the road from Bethany to Jerusalem Monday morning.  Scripture says that Jesus is hungry and spots a fig tree in full leaf.  This specific tree is out-of-place in the landscape at this time of year.  It’s not fig season, and the deciduous tree should be bare.  Jesus approaches the tree to observe.  Is Jesus surprised?  Clearly for the fully man who is also fully God, this is not the case.  No, as will be His pattern for the middle of this week, Jesus is in teaching mode.

In approaching and examining the tree, Jesus finds no fruit.  He speaks to the tree (in a voice all the disciples can hear) and condemns it.  “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark 11:14)  Was Jesus angry because his hunger went unfulfilled?  John 4:34 provides a clear and emphatic answer to that question.

Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. (NLT)

Jesus condemns and curses the tree, because it gave the appearance of fruit.  And with the condemnation that all heard that morning, Jesus taught a lesson that is also true of our lives.  The false self that adorns itself in personal righteousness, speaks its own wisdom, and serves for the purpose of recognition and its own advancement, is like that fig tree in full leaf.  It is of no use to the King or His kingdom.

Almost as quickly as it happened, Jesus moves on from the fig tree and continues toward Jerusalem.  His steps are measured.  His destination is clear.  He has already been there, and He is returning with a purpose and a plan for decisive action.  Wait … He has already been there?  A verse that escaped my notice for as many years as the true meaning of hosanna is Mark 11:11.  While His triumphal entry was front page news from Palm Sunday, buried on page 6 was His visit to the temple before He returned to Bethany late that afternoon.  Mark 11:11 says…

So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples. (NLT)

The gospel accounts give us no further detail, but a closer study of the Greek reveals a sense of deeper intent and scrutiny than the translation “looking around” would suggest.  Although Scripture doesn’t say it, I see Jesus stealing away as He often did to pray.  Visiting his Father’s house was on His agenda, and I cannot see Jesus taking a group along with Him.  He needed to experience with His fully Divine and fully human senses what had become of God’s house.  Proving that His ways are not ours, verse 11 notes that “he left because it was late in the afternoon.”

God does not choose to reveal Jesus’ thoughts and reactions during His deliberate visit, but we know from history that what Jesus saw resembled nothing of the house of prayer that God commissioned and commanded it to be.  The once holy and sacred space had, over time, become more of a human institution.  Temple currency was created to generate a profit for those who controlled and exchanged it.  There was an entire enterprise structure built around acquiring a suitable sacrificial animal.  There were merchants, inspectors, priests, and at every level, corruption that lined the pockets of the privileged few at the expense of those who had little.  Honest pilgrims desiring to honor God, fleeced by those they trusted were there to ensure their sacrifice was fitting.  I have only research to rely on, with no first-hand account, but everything I know suggests that this was far from a house of prayer.

What I had always believed, was the picture of Jesus storming into the Temple and overturning tables was a sudden and visceral reaction to the shock and surprise of what He walked in on.  How much more powerful and consistent with the character of God it is to understand that this was nothing more than Jesus making right, the mess that had been made of his Father’s house.  This was a righteous response to the evil that had co-opted God’s house of prayer.

When we cast our gaze over the entirety of the final Monday in Jesus’ earthly life, we can clearly see how God feels about the false self in us and in our communities of worship.  As the group with Jesus returns to Bethany late Monday, they pass by the fig tree.  It has withered and died.  A fitting picture of what God desires for the false self in us.  As we enter our houses and communities of worship this week to remember and celebrate, let’s follow Jesus’ example and “look around.”  What do we see, hear, taste, touch and smell?  Is it a house of prayer where those on the margins are welcome?  Are there some tables that should be forcibly removed?

The pages of Scripture remain alive today and speak through the ancients directly to us.  This is not just another Monday.  What a blessing to walk deliberately and intently through Jesus’ final week and learn from Him.

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Responses

  1. What do I see when I look around? Lord please help me to see which tables need to be thrown over in my life.


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