A meditation on Matthew 21: 18-22;
In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in faith, you will receive."
Meditation on Matthew 21:18-22
Given at the Night Office, Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, by Vivian Lewin
April 10, 2017 (Monday in Holy Week)
Can you remember your first kiss?
And now, can you remember before your first kiss? I mean, can you remember not knowing what it was like to exchange a kiss?
The Eastern Church observes Holy Week as the Week of the Bridegroom. Together, we are waiting for Christ to reveal God’s glorious love to us the way the bride and her attendants wait for the Bridegroom to come and invite them to the prepared wedding feast.
This teaches us two things we need to hold in mind this week
First, Holy Week and Easter are not simply an annual observance that comes around year after year. These days point to a permanent shift, a point of no return in our life of faith. As one homilist recently wrote about the Lazarus story, there is no “same old, same old” about Resurrection.
Second, we need to enter these days without knowing what we are going to experience.
The somewhat challenging passage from Matthew we just heard is used today in that tradition. I’d like to explore it.
“In the morning, when Jesus returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.” (Matthew 21:18-19)
What sprung to mind [reference Bonhoeffer, see note] when I read this, were the words of John the Baptist near the beginning of same Gospel, urging those who were coming to him to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
And just as the partners in a marriage naturally hope to be fruitful (in a way appropriate to their situation), so, I think, it is natural and even important for Jesus as he approaches the end of his earthly ministry to hunger for fruitfulness in the community around him. The commentaries say he was judging the Jews around him (chiefly I would say his fellow Pharisees) for failing to recognize that God’s promise was on the point of being fulfilled.
This evening, as we prepare to walk with Jesus in the final days of his life, it is helpful to face up to God’s expectations of us and our experience of God’s love.
Do I contradict myself to say that we do already know Christ? Even if we only vaguely desire to draw nearer to God, we might do well to recognize, as Teillard writes, that this very desire can only spring from God’s life within us.
So I invite you to take a moment to reflect upon your Lent… or, perhaps, perhaps on the year you have lived since last Easter. Where have you borne fruit worthy of repentance? Worthy of your new life?
Saint Paul listed the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians (5: 22-23): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
These are indeed sweet fruits… just as the fruit of the fig tree is renowned for being the sweetest fruit in the Holy Land.
Where is your life with God bearing fruit now? Is it ripe? Or starting to promise sweetness? Are there areas where you find only leaves?
The Christ light can transform our lives as we are living them, in a radical way. When we come into the presence of Christ, we do sometimes find that seemingly insignificant moments or movements can become full of life and meaning. Yet the opposite can happen too: achievements we were really proud of can suddenly shrivel up into almost nothing.
When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying “Why did it wither at once?’ 21 Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea”, it will be done.’ (Matthew 21:20-21)
I invite you to pray with faith for fruitfulness in your relationships, and to pray for insight as you continue your walk with Jesus this week.
‘Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’ (Matthew 21:22
Sisters & brothers, Amen.
Note: Bonhoeffer reference: “In our meditation we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day and for our Christian life,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained to seminarians at Finkenwalde, “that it is not only God’s Word for the Church, but also God’s Word for us individually. “