Reflections on Holy Tuesday
Today is Holy Tuesday in Holy Week---a day which has also been called Fig Tuesday because of the passages of Scripture that mark this particular holy day in the historic Church.
The reference to figs comes from two different passages in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. I'll paraphrase, mainly using Mark's account.
After Palm Sunday, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples after hanging out with friends in Bethany, when he approaches a fig tree and finds no fruit on it, and then inexplicably curses the tree by saying:
“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark 11:14, NIV)
Mark's account is careful to say that it wasn't the season for figs, which makes Jesus' cursing of the tree all the more curious.
Then Jesus and the disciples head to the Temple, where Jesus literally turned the tables on the religious leaders of his day by dumping the tables of the money-changers and the sellers of doves and then driving them out with a whip.
This spectacle would have been a welcome sight for the poor who were coming to the Temple for Passover. They would have first had to change their money into Tyrolian shekels (with a change fee), and all they would have been able to afford as a sacrifice would have been doves.
As you can imagine this did not sit well with the religious leaders, priestly types, and other assorted grumblers, and lovers of the status quo.
The next morning (Tuesday), on their way back to Bethany, Jesus and his disciples pass the fig tree that was cursed the day before, and it has withered and died. When Peter points this out, Jesus launches into a lesson about faith, repentance, and forgiveness.
This pericope in Mark's Gospel has occupied scholars for years, and there's been a lot of ink spilled in trying to interpret it. Here's my take, though:
I am of the opinion that Jesus wanted to teach his followers about how religious institutions can lose their way when they grow to care more about an air of religiosity, always being right, and maintaining outward appearances of piety than they do about having a right relationship with God and others.
The great English theologian, Archbishop William Temple once wrote:
It is a great mistake to think that God is chiefly interested in religion.
Sadly, this is the kind of mistake that people have been making for centuries. It's the mistake that Jesus was pointing out to his followers with the miracle of the fig tree. His point was when you lose your way, it doesn't take long before things start to wither and die.
The Temple had become a money-making enterprise that benefited an elite group of people who used religion as a mask to hide their true intentions. Jesus' made it impossible for them to ignore him after he cleared the Temple courtyard, and declared it his "Father's house," and not "a den of thieves."
Holy Tuesday offers us a reminder that our religion isn't nearly as important as our relationships.
If we want to be the kind of people who live fully into the Great Commandment that Jesus proclaimed (Love God, and Love Everybody), then we need to get back to basics.
Spend this week thinking about ways that you can strengthen your relationship with God through prayer, meditation, worship, and devotion.
And then realize that the natural next step is to also strengthen your relationships with others through generosity, peacemaking, grace-giving, and unconditional love.
May it be so for you today and every day from this day. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.
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