No one likes Mondays, and from reading the passages of Scripture which record his movement on the Monday before his crucifixion, Jesus does not appear to be any exception. I don’t mean to be irreverent, but Jesus just seems grumpy.
After triumphantly entering Jerusalem the day prior, Jesus and his disciples return to the village of Bethany to stay the night. The next morning, they get up and return to the city (it’s only about a mile west of Bethany, an easy commute). They’ll be there most of the day. We aren’t given a ton of detail. What we do know reveals a side of Jesus that we don’t always see. A harmony of all four Gospel accounts of Monday’s events can be found here.
Jesus does two things that we know of. Early in the morning, on the way into the city, he curses a fig tree because it doesn’t have any fruit on it and he was hungry. Later that day, he clears the temple in a fit of righteous anger. This grouchy combination can be attributed to a couple factors–his God-natured zeal and his human-natured stress feeling the pressure.
This struggle (if we can call it that) between his complete deity and his complete humanity will be evident the entire Holy Week. No one else can relate to being 100% God and 100% man. So it’s hard to empathize. What we do know is this–if Jesus ever had a case of the Mondays, it was today.
The Curse of the Fig Tree
The account of the fig tree is found in Matthew and Mark. Here’s how Mark recorded the incident:
“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.” (Mark 11:12-14)
Matthew adds that the fig tree withered at once.
I’m not trying to suggest that Jesus was being unreasonable. He can do whatever he wants. But it wasn’t even the season for figs! You can’t get mad at your favorite frozen shaved ice place for not being open in December when they always close for winter. But Jesus is hungry, and all he was wanting was a fig. There weren’t any. He curses the fig tree.
At first glance, I just feel bad for Jesus. Was he just hungry? Maybe it’s because all of this is leading up to a excruciating day, but I just wish he’d had a fig to eat or someone would’ve whipped together some breakfast before they left Bethany.
Or maybe there’s more to it.
People who know such things relay to us that the pre-fruit on a fig tree was often evident prior to figs coming in. These would fall off as the tree fully bore fruit later in the season. This pre-fruit (called taqsh by the Hebrews) was often eaten by the poor. When Jesus spots the leafy tree (it must’ve been leafy to have spotted it at a distance), he goes over in search of some taqsh. There was none.
This was evidence that the tree would not bear fruit that season.
So from Jesus perspective, the tree was useless. It didn’t bear fruit. So he curses it. Not because he’s hungry and feeling sorry for himself, but because the tree didn’t do what it was supposed to do. And combined with what happens next, the reason the disciples saw fit to pass this story on to us is pretty clear.
Cleansing of the Temple
No really, close your eyes and imagine him. What does he look like? White robe? Flowing hair? Well-manicured beard? Pale, white skin? Tranquil? Calm?
It’s hard to imagine Jesus enraged. While my handy google search turned up numerous Glamour Shots of Jesus, very few exist of him clearing the temple. But he did. Here’s how Matthew puts it:
“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.'” (Matthew 21:12-13)
For the record, here’s the best image I could find:
Why did Jesus get so mad? It was more than a grumpy disposition. Folks were using the sacrificial system to make money, to profit from worship, to manipulate and take advantage of the poor. Jesus reminded them this was to be a house of prayer–a place where righteousness, humility, and the very presence of God were to dwell. They were moving merchandise. So he unloaded on them.
While it’s hard to imagine Jesus whipping people (the whip is mentioned in John 2), he didn’t seem to try very hard not to. And I don’t think he whispered his correction in a well-mannered tone of voice. I hear him shouting. I see him sweating. People scattered. Animals ran for their lives. Coins clanged against the cobblestone. It was quite a sight, I’m sure.
The disciples looked at each other. First the fig tree. Now this. What had gotten in to Jesus? He didn’t just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. In fact, I’m not so sure grumpiness even touches his state of mind.
This man, this God-man, had spoken the world into existence. John 1, Colossians 1, and other Scriptures make it plain: God the Son has existed eternally as the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Descending from heaven, he did not consider his God-ness something to be clung to (Philippians 2). He walked among us, taught us, healed us–in our very presence. But he has loved us all along. That’s why he gave us fruit and each other and the temple. Ways to connect to one another and to him.
And we jacked it all up. Sin entered the garden, and God could kick the people out of the garden, but he couldn’t kick the sin out of the people. The Flood didn’t work. The Law didn’t work. The Tabernacle didn’t work. The Temple didn’t. Everything, and I mean everything, even the little fig trees dotting the landscape, were infested with sin. Can you imagine how frustrating that is to a God who just wants us to love Him?
Things were not as they were meant to be. Things weren’t working how they were supposed to. There was abuse, neglect, corruption, and hard hearts at every turn. Fig trees weren’t the only thing not bearing fruit–His people weren’t either.
The nation of Israel had it’s chance. And though they had screamed in jubilation just the day before, on this day they were like the no-good fig tree. They hadn’t been a light. They hadn’t set an example for the Gentiles. They hadn’t lived like children of the promise. They were not bearing fruit.
Never again would people eat of their fruit again.
Jesus didn’t just turn over tables as he rampaged through the temple. He turned the way things were on their head. No longer would men be right with God by obeying the Law. They would be right with God by trusting in Him.
Jesus didn’t just curse a fig tree to a fruitless existence, he spoke a truth over the nation of Israel, too–you didn’t do what I made you to do, so you’re done. Until you trust in me, you have no inheritance, no future, no purpose. Your a worthless shrub.
Is all that harsh? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make it false. And let’s not just point the finger at Israel.
Where are we? Are we dying on the vine, trusting in our own power and craftiness? Are we connected to Jesus, living out our intended purpose? Do we use our faith as a way of making our life more profitable/comfortable/reasonable?
When Jesus gets out of bed in the morning and stumbles upon us, would his reaction resemble a case of the Mondays?
May we fall at his feet and on his mercy, for he is our only hope.
Photo credit to Valentine de Boulogne (Jesus Cleanses the Temple)