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The Fig Tree and the Temple

Today’s Gospel passage is another example of how the evangelist sometimes encases a story within a story to illustrate his point. Today, we hear St. Mark’s version of the cleansing of the Temple of Jerusalem. Surrounding it is the story of the fig tree.

Are you thinking that this poor fig tree was unjustly cursed by Jesus? The Gospel clearly states that it was not the time for figs so why does Jesus expect to find fruit on the branches out of season?

The fig tree is purely a symbol in this passage. It signals the fate of the Temple. What happened to the fig tree that day will eventually happen to the Temple. St. Mark uses this literary technique to signal the end of the Temple, which for the Jewish people, is like the end of the world. Their whole lives revolved around this building. It was their place of worship, their place of education, their place of political endeavors, and, as is demonstrated in today’s reading, their place of commerce and exchange. 

The first reading speaks about the end times. St. Peter warns the recipients of his letter that they must be serious and sober-minded so that they will be prepared for the travails that will come their way. Here again, the sacred writer is not only writing about their present moment, he is also speaking about the end of the world. As the early Christians faced the Roman persecutions, St. Peter uses their concerns to point them toward the eternal reward that will be theirs at the end of time.

St. Peter uses this message to urge his followers to prayer. Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple is supposed to be a house of prayer. Indeed, prayer is the only way that we can prepare for the future, whether we are talking about our own future or the future of the world. We need to be serious and sober so that we will be able to pray.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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