Light

I saw light fall so thickly through the clouds that it drenched the distant plain in yellow gold, the soft silhouettes of trees seeming adrift in an ocean of light. And I thought, what it would be to walk in that magnificent land, saturated in the glorious light! And though the light was bright so that it would dazzle I felt I would not be dazzled but filled with light and one with the light. And is it such a land we are called to?
And I wondered, what would it be like in that land of glory to look back at the dark world of pain, emptiness, loss, grief, foolishness and frustration, in which we now live? At my life now lived? And it seemed not empty but precious – for who could help but love the Son of God, bathed in his glory, healed of all pain, filled with his light? But now in the dark adversity of this empty life of longing and pain, to love him is faith indeed! That is love indeed! That is a memory to savour in the eternity of light, and now and now only can such memories be made.
And I saw that it is not a poor life I have been given even in its most dismal failures and cruel misfortunes, but indeed these are my greatest opportunities to praise my Lord, to love him as now only he can be loved, to share even a small part of the fellowship of his suffering, which memory we will share forever.
And I left off to envy the prosperous whether deserving or undeserving, to berate myself for failing to attain their goods or standing or benefits, even those who have prospered in welldoing, to accomplish their works. For there is no thing good or bad in which I cannot thank the Lord and know his greatness and kindness. For even in my own stupidity I can praise the Lord that he loves me nonetheless, and one day I shall be wise by his grace, and not suffer then from my foolishness now.
And though I saw that in bad things there is opportunity, yet I did not despise pleasure or success or satisfaction or love, such is they may be had in this life. For being freed from the grief of failure or of love or pleasure lost, seeing now the worth of that grief, I was free also from dissatisfaction with this world’s good, knowing it instead as a welcome reprieve from darkness in which may be found good but which is hard to bear, and I no longer sought that the good should be better but praised God doubly for it!
And though I have often regretted that I did not help others more, I now see that I could not increase the greatest opportunity they already had, to look to their Lord with gratitude in every circumstance; neither can any man take it from them. Neither did I, if I have harmed any. And so at last I had peace. I saw that God is not the author of darkness, but has granted that we may walk now through it, that we may show our love for our Lord in such a way that we will forever regard as one of his greatest gifts to us, to know him in the pain of the world he died for, to show ourselves his own, such as we may never do again. Praise be to God, amen.

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Fulfillment

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!