‘Fetch me those cords,’ Jesus said, gesturing to where they lay scattered near a table of caged doves. The merchant of the doves looked stonily at James as he approached the pile but did not meet the eyes of Jesus standing behind. The cords were a perk of the job – not worth much, but those little extras all helped. The doves had to be secured in their cages on the donkey; you bought the doves, you got the cord. James looked at the merchant, weighing whether to explain himself. He saw the man was resigned to the loss, albeit faint storm clouds crossed his eyes. James said nothing, collecting the cords and returning to Jesus.

How different this would have been, Jesus thought to himself with an unseen, humourless chuckle. How different, if he had arrived here with his team all refreshed from a miraculous feed of figs from that tree to which they had paid a fruitless visit on the way in that morning. His words alone might have propelled the tables across the floor of the temple, oxen, sheep, doves and merchants tumbling with them! What a sight, those magnificently arrayed Pharisees collecting themselves from the dust-clouded heap, brushing and plucking at feathers, hair and dung on their soiled robes!

What now? Should he even proceed? The fire was gone. Spent on that hapless tree, replaced now only by a lingering sadness, thoughts of his Father.
‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up’; the words passed through Jesus’ mind. Yes, indeed. He might not be eating this morning, nonetheless he should be ‘eaten’. So it must be.

Jesus seated himself on an empty wooden crate in the midst of the courtyard. The disciples were uneasy about their prominent position, making small talk, shuffling their feet, glancing around then back to Jesus. All eyes were on him, not the disciples’ eyes only. He was platting something from the cords.

It was easier when Jesus was speaking or healing people. Then he genuinely was the centre of attention. The disciples knew where to stand, what to do, responding as best they could to any enquiries, but often they were more or less ignored. That was fine. Now there was a growing apprehension in the scattered crowd as they went about their business, something was building, no one knew what. The disciples felt probably they should know, at least everyone else expected them to know, but when ever did they? Jesus was unpredictabe, that was all you could predict.

And the way he just sat down in the midst and behaved like this was his own living room! He was always like this in the temple, like nowhere else. He would lounge about, watching the proceedings. Often he didn’t even preach or minister. Now, the more he relaxed, the more everyone else got on edge. Hopefully he would soon get on with whatever it was he had planned. Several of the Pharisees had gathered and were conferring about something, their eyes like daggers probing Jesus’ position; then one of them left, apparently on some kind of errand. They were always plotting, never anything good. The less time they had, the better. Keep one step ahead, that was the best defence against them. It was a miracle Jesus hadn’t been taken into custody already.

While Jesus was working, a quiet assurance rose within him. He did not have at his disposal the hurricane of anger he might otherwise have felt, but he was certain nonetheless about what should be. And it would be refreshing to finally do something, not as always thrust his passions silently skyward to find their answer in One all-knowing, everlasting, unchanging.

The scourge – a short makeshift whip with several tails – was finished. Jesus rose. Within him rose a flood, deep, penetrating and passionate, like a force field, filling him, surrounding him in those first steps to the table of the nearest merchant. A loud crack split the air of the temple. Everyone who heard it felt it, as if it had fallen on their own skin. A sweep of the scourge sent containers and coins tumbling. Jesus said something, he scarcely knew what. ‘Take these things hence – make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise,’ was what others heard.

The tables tumbled, the merchants fled. The Pharisees stormed across to each other, then to the door, then re-entered striding with purpose, only to stop far distant, gesticulating and exclaiming to each other, like actors playing in the audience, without a part in this magnificent drama on what had been their own stage. In those with nothing to lose from the scourge a thrill arose, like the thrill of lightning and the clap of thunder when a brewing storm finally breaks. And as it broke a lightness filled the air, and amidst the tempest the gentle rain of Jesus’ tears began to fall as he sailed atop the thunder cloud of cleansing, until all was spent, and he sat again, and wiped his eyes and his brow.

It was quiet now. The Pharisees had left to some other venue to nurse their shattered prestige. A few children who had been watching from the door now scampered in, seeing in the upturned tables and absence of supervision a chance for play. They released some doves from an abandoned cage and ran shrieking after them, jumping and swinging their arms as the stunned birds fluttered away. A few pious folk came in and sat on the ground of the courtyard where the disciples also sat next to Jesus. No one touched the mess or rebuked the children; it was not known any more what should be done in the temple, only who should do it, and he remained silently seated with his eyes to the ground.

Before long a blind man appeared at the door guided by men on either side. ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they called as they entered. Jesus looked up; he seemed in good spirits. As the new arrivals neared, he said, ‘Friends, what brings you here?’ The children had gathered, anticipating some wonder of healing to be seen. And as the blind received his sight, and lifted his arms heavenward, they began to jump, and run, and call, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna to the Son of David!’, the new passphrase of the temple. And among the upturned chairs and the coins lying ungathered, all was as it should be.



Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? A fig tree is just going about its rightful business in the off season – growing leaves, storing energy, nutrients and so on, preparing to have fruit – then suddenly, for not producing an impromptu miracle, it is the subject of no small curse from the Creator of the Universe. Yet the patience of God is staggering, his mercy incomparable. So where is the patience of the Son of God, his mercy towards this hapless tree? OK, so Jesus was angry. Perhaps we underestimate the weight of humanity he was wrestling with here as God incarnate? Especially then, perhaps only days out from the cross. Did he already carry the weight of our sins? Our anger? Did he already know the forsaking of his Father which befell that instant of Jesus’ life for our sakes? Still, Jesus himself did not sin. So whatever motivated this pronouncement of doom for the fig, it was not wrong. But something was wrong. The Creator shows up at a fig tree looking for fruit, hungry belly and pleading heart looking to his Father, he ought to find fruit. Any time, any season, it should be there for him. Something was wrong, Jesus knew it. Someone was to blame. ‘Your Father! He’s let you down. Oh yes, its alright for those sinners, he heals every disease under the sun for them when they so much as touch the hem of your garment, he lays on loaves and fishes for thousands! But when you, his own son, needs a feed on the hardest day, its too much.’ That was one possibility. There were not too many other suspects. Just the tree. Very well then, Jesus decided, the tree it is. Jesus understood that his anger had to go somewhere. That is why he said to his disciples, ‘If they will not receive you, nor hear your words, when you leave that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ Again, it does not sound too charitable. But that dust is bad stuff. Best not carry it around. Nonetheless a bad day for the tree! Its sap must have positively crystalized when Jesus spoke. By the next day it had withered away. Yet how else could it be? It would have been unthinkable for anyone else to get fruit from it in future. That is why Jesus said, ‘Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth forever’. To have fed Jesus would have been an ultimate good. To have failed to feed him was an epic event. But to then feed anyone else, having failed to feed God himself, would have been a disgrace. Yet all was not lost. Because for what is a fig tree born? Is it not to make known its Creator? To satisfy him, yes. But by what is he more satisfied, than that he should be revealed in that very tree? And so it was. To this day the tree, though withered away, ‘stands’ as a testimony and a teaching about God, and a commemoration of the temptations of Jesus. Indeed the fig tree was fulfilled. And so perhaps it will stand again, barren of fruit, full of beauty, beside a river of life, in the light of one Son of God, in a world to come.

Running on empty

Figs out of season – not really a big deal for the one who turned water into wine, who fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes – twice. And that’s only what we know about. Jesus even said to his disciples, what are you worried about food for? Don’t you remember the loaves and the fishes? (That’s my version – sorry its not word for word, it would pay to check the original.) But that morning on the way into Jerusalem Jesus was hungry. But then there’s more to figs out of season than just food. These are special figs – God figs. These are figs from the Father. That’s why Jesus was hungry, and that’s what he hungered for – a nod, a smile, a ‘keep going Son’ from on high. A message in figs – figs where there shouldn’t be figs, right where you need them. I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t physically hungry, I’m saying when we are emotionally drained we are looking for something to keep us going. And when Jesus saw that fig tree, a ray of hope flickered in him, and he knew, if Father was giving me breakfast, that’s where it would be. Food for body and soul, food for faith if you have a heart to know it, and no one had faith like Jesus, a heart like Jesus, who knew the mind of the Father, who saw Father’s hand at work everywhere. And in that fig tree, Jesus searched for that hand.

You see, it seems to me that as Jesus braced himself that day for the subtle, deadly, piercing inquisition of the pharisees, and the oceanic needs of the people, the seeds of what were to be some of his final words – Father, Father, why have you forsaken me? – had already been sown. He woke that morning feeling strangely alone, strangely empty, strangely abandoned. And in his heart he knew, ‘it has begun’. This is the end game. And its mine, and mine alone. And out of that realisation weakness flooded him, hunger arose, then anger – but that’s for another post. Before that came the fig tree, and a ray of hope – this is how it has always been, you and me Father, always your lifeline, the hand that no one sees, though I tell them, though I point to it, they stare blindly, but I see, I know, and I need your lifeline so much.

Not this time. As Jesus searched the branches, bleary-eyed, bewildered disciples watching, behind every leaf was only the cold realisation, it was not to be. A new feeling. A closed door. An empty stomach.

That fig tree..

So Jesus is on his way into town – Jerusalem that is – its early and he hasn’t had breakfast. Or lunch or dinner the day before. That’s not uncommon for Jesus, he’s used to roughing it on the road, food comes when and where you find it. Still its not often you read that he was hungry, like this morning. I’m picking he had a rough night, rougher than usual. His time is up, he knows that. That’s why he’s here – to finish it. Still, now the final scene is here, it just feels empty. Something is not right. Judas? Well that was always coming. There might still be a chance – but its hard to see how he will make it back from here. He’s had chances plenty already. Focus, get it right these next two days and its done, everything’s done. Play it right.. but that’s just it. They’re all playing to lose. I’m playing it for them, they don’t even see. Well, how was it meant to be anyway? Father? Hungry. Pulling up short, that’s what it is. I’m almost there and I’m pulling up short. Well that makes sense, I was always going to be home on empty. Ha! Figs!