The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and after looking around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer or all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered." Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you your trespasses."
Both Peter's warning message and Jesus' driving out from the temple those engaged in buying and selling confront us with the fearful topic of life's ending. We read in Peter that the end is close at hand, and in the gospel the withering of the fig tree signals the end of the Jerusalem temple. Yet in all three biblical passages for today it is clear that life goes on and that our response must not be mere passive submission to events.
Mark's gospel sets Jesus' cleansing the temple in some association with his cursing the fig tree and its withering, since the story of the fig tree envelops the other incident, a style quite common in Mark. Jesus was doing more than cleansing the temple, for his words, drawn from the Old Testament, announce a new type of temple: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people." In those days, non-Jews were forbidden under pain of death to advance beyond the outer court of the gentiles, and the Roman authorities ratified this prescription. But Jesus draws from an Old Testament passage (Isaiah, 56) from a tradition which was not dominant in the life of Israel, though the words give an understanding of God's plans for the future of his people. Clearly, he wants them to live more prayerfully and more generously towards others, and allow outsiders to share in the Jewish prayerful awareness of God's presence.
In Peter, the link with the ancestors is kept very firm. In cleansing the temple, Jesus also referred back to Isaiah. Peter advises us, "Be mutually hospitable without complaining… put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure that each has received." Even while doing one's best, we are not to be surprised if "a trial by fire" may occur, but instead, "Rejoice insofar as you share in Christ's sufferings." Sorrow can put us in contact with the greatest of our ancestors, Jesus Christ, who continues to live through the bond of the new covenant. We can overcome our trials, and look to the future because of the bond of God's love for us in Christ Jesus. No matter what may happen, the mercy of Christ is there to help us.
Mark often links two stories that he perceives to have something in common. Today he links the cleansing of the temple with Jesus parable of the fig tree. When Jesus could not find any fruit on the fig tree, he declared that the tree had no future. Mark is implying that when Jesus entered the temple he found it not bearing spiritual fruit. Instead of being a house of prayer it had become a robber's den. Like the fig tree, it had no future.
Jesus again speaks about prayer. The temple will be replaced by a new house of prayer, a new praying community, people who do the will of God as Jesus has revealed it, the community that came to be called the church. The church is to be a prayerful community - and also one marked by forgiveness. When Jesus speaks about prayer at the end of that gospel, he links it to forgiveness. 'When you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against others, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.' This readiness to forgive as we have been forgiven is a major quality that God expects to find among this new community of prayer. [MH]