Mark 11:12-14, 20-25
I might need to clarify something I said a few days ago. The times I listed were the few times in which Christ is described as angry. Obviously those weren’t the only times he actually was angry. He was human and experienced the same types of daily frustrations which all of us do, plus a lot that we’ll never undergo. Today seems to be another time in which he was upset. Why?
I did some research, and here’s what I found which might shed some light. Of course, I’m a city boy, so all of this was new to me. Fig trees were planted and then allowed to grow for three years before they were expected to produce fruit. Once they did, they were harvested twice a year. One of the ways you could tell that a tree had figs was--as you might expect from the passage--that it had leaves. We’ve managed to piece together that June was more than a month away when this happened, which was the typical harvest time (“the season for figs”). If you were walking along the road and saw a fig tree with leaves, your assumption would be that the tree was producing fruit early. For a tree to have leaves but no fruit would be most unusual.
Please keep in mind that this is the only destructive miracle which Jesus performed during his earthly ministry. All his other works were healing or restorative or productive in nature: multiplying loaves and fish, healing people, raising them from the dead, etc.
I don’t know if he was truly angry at the tree, but he did decide to use this as a living illustration of two lessons. The first we’ve already noted—When someone is presenting a “false front” in pretending to produce fruit and not really producing it, that’s not acceptable to the Master. He expects fruit from his “trees.” He expects a return on his investments.
The other lesson is on prayer. Once more I need to remind you of the importance of context. There are a lot of people in the “Faith” movement who love to take passages like this and build a whole system of theology on them. They loooooove passages like this which seem to grant carte blanche to whatever you want. If you want X, then just pray for it, believing that God will provide it, and he has to.
Before we even get to the problem of context we have a little language problem to consider. What does the word “pray” even mean? Literally the word means to ask. Not demand. Ask. He owes us nothing except judgment, and we owe him everything.
But in the context of the whole of Scripture there are plenty of conditions on prayer. John tells us that it needs to be in accordance with his will. The Psalmist warns us that if there’s unconfessed sin harbored in our heart, God won’t listen. Even in today’s passage there’s a condition: If you have anything between you and someone else, you’ve got to forgive them. Notice the universality here: “Anyone” means Christian or nonbeliever. On a side-note, the last verse also dispels the notion that we need to wait until someone asks us for forgiveness before we forgive them. If you’re praying and realize that you’re holding a grudge, you forgive them immediately.
But having given all the caveats and conditions in the last paragraph, let me make a confession. I’m far too timid in my prayer life. I sometimes get so caught up in theological correctness that I neglect the childlike expectation that my Lord wants from me. One of the reasons why the “Faith” people are led astray is because of lavish promises which Jesus made. Yes, they’re misinterpreting those promises, but in rebutting the bad theology I’m in serious danger of neglecting the promises themselves. They might be too close to demanding things from the Father, but I could stand to be a lot bolder in my asking. What about you?
Father, you're a great God, and my prayers often don’t reflect that. They’re so small and aren’t worthy of the awe-inspiring Almighty God whom I worship. Please guide me through this.