Friday, May 28, 2010

When You Stand To Pray, Forgive, So That Your Heavenly Father May In Turn Forgive Your Transgressions.

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1
1 Peter 4:7-13

The end of all things is at hand.
Therefore be serious and sober-minded
so that you will be able to pray.
Above all, let your love for one another be intense,
because love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining.
As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another
as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies,
so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ,
to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Beloved, do not be surprised
that a trial by fire is occurring among you,
as if something strange were happening to you.
But rejoice to the extent
that you share in the sufferings of Christ,
so that when his glory is revealed
you may also rejoice exultantly.
Today we jump to chapter 4 of Peter’s first letter. We have skipped over a longish passage where he gives instructions to various classes and groups of society. Today’s reading consists of the final verses in Part III on ‘The Christian in a Hostile World’ and the opening verses of Part IV which consists of ‘Advice to the Persecuted’.

Today he gives some warnings about the end time which is believed to be close at hand. The early Christians expected to see Jesus come again in their lifetime. But by the time the later writings of the New Testament came to be composed, this expectation was fading and a longer wait was anticipated. This also changed church attitudes which looked more to present behaviour as a long-term preparation for the coming of the Lord.

The anticipation of the end times, particularly Christ’s return in glory, should influence the believers’ attitudes, actions and relationships. “Be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayer”. If they are to be ready for this coming, Christians are to be characterised by reason; they are to make wise, mature decisions and are to have a clearly defined purpose in life. Prayer should form a central part of the Christian’s life - not just the reciting of prayers but being in close dialogue with the Lord, of which a large part should be listening.

In their relationships with each other, love, a real care for each other, should dominate. That love should be “intense” because “love covers a multitude of sins”. A phrase which we can use very glibly but it contains a profound truth. The truly loving person, the one dedicated to taking care of the needs of others, can never be far from God. Wherever there is love, there is God; wherever there is love, there cannot be sin.
And such love clearly includes the Christian virtue of hospitality, of opening one’s doors not only to friends but even to strangers, especially those in need. In addition, all have received gifts in abundance from the Lord and these are to be generously put at the service of others. That is why they were given in the first place. In a climate of fear and anxiety, where love is missing, it is so easy just to think selfishly of oneself.
Those who have the gift of public speaking, for instance, should use that gift to share the message of the Gospel. And this applies not just to community leaders but to every person to whom the Spirit speaks. Those deputed to minister to the community (including liturgical service) should do so with all the strength that God has given them.

In a word, all is to be done for the greater glory of God. Everything we have belongs to him and our enrichment is in giving everything back to him - through those around us.

In the final part of the reading, there are words of encouragement. He addresses his readers as ‘Beloved’ - the objects of his agape-love. They are reminded not to be surprised at trials they may be experiencing from those who attack or persecute them. Far from being disturbed by this, they should rejoice to be able to share in the sufferings of Jesus. When it comes to misunderstandings, abuse and suffering physical violence Jesus has experienced it all - and for our sake. It was Peter, we might remember here, who opposed the idea of Jesus suffering (Matthew 16:21-23).
Much of this advice needs to be heard and taken on board by each one of us. It is as valid now as when it was written 2,000 years ago.
Mark 11:11-26
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area.
He looked around at everything and,
since it was already late,
went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany
he was hungry.
Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went over to see if he could find anything on it.
When he reached it he found nothing but leaves;
it was not the time for figs.
And he said to it in reply,
“May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”
And his disciples heard it.

They came to Jerusalem,
and on entering the temple area
he began to drive out
those selling and buying there.
He overturned the tables of the money changers
and the seats of those who were selling doves.
He did not permit anyone
to carry anything through the temple area.
Then he taught them saying, “Is it not written:

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples?
But you have made it a den of thieves.”

The chief priests and the scribes came to hear of it
and were seeking a way to put him to death,
yet they feared him
because the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching.
When evening came, they went out of the city.

Early in the morning, as they were walking along,
they saw the fig tree withered to its roots.
Peter remembered and said to him,
“Rabbi, look!
The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
Jesus said to them in reply, “Have faith in God.
Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,
‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’
and does not doubt in his heart
but believes that what he says will happen,
it shall be done for him.
Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer,
believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.
When you stand to pray,
forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance,
so that your heavenly Father may in turn
forgive you your transgressions.”
We are now entering the final part of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is now in Jerusalem and in the final days of his ministry.

Today we have the strange incident of the fig tree. Jesus was leaving Bethany for nearby Jerusalem and was hungry. He went up to a fig tree looking for fruit to eat, even though it was not the time of year for figs. Jesus then cursed the tree: “Never again shall anyone eat of your fruit!” Why curse a tree for not having what it could not have at that time?

In the evening on their way back to Bethany, the disciples saw the fig tree that Jesus had cursed all withered.
This story is generally understood as a kind of parable. The fig tree without fruit represents those people among the Jews who rejected Jesus. When he came to them looking for faith in his message, he found nothing. In a sense, they had closed their minds and withered up.

This meaning is reinforced by another event which is sandwiched into the middle of the fig tree story. This is a common device used by Mark and it is called ‘inclusion’, when one passage is enclosed within another. (We remember the story of the woman with the haemorrhage which is included within the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.)

After cursing the fig tree Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem and began driving out all those who were trading in the Temple court. He accused them of turning God’s house of prayer into a market place. It was an example of people who had reduced their religious faith to mere commercialism. Religious ritual had been turned into an opportunity for making money. The meaning of the Temple as the symbol of God’s presence among his people was being lost. And there was also the failure to see the presence and power of God working through Jesus himself. The fig tree was adorned with beautiful leaves but there was no fruit.

And so at the end Jesus urges his disciples to develop real faith, a real trust and insight into God’s presence in their lives. To those with true faith, Jesus says, just anything is possible. It is an essential condition for prayer. And prayer must include a willingness to forgive and be reconciled with those who cause us difficulties so that we may find forgiveness and reconciliation from God for our own faults and failings in his service.

Let us pray today for that kind of faith. A faith that produces much fruit. A faith that generates harmony and togetherness.


Sarah in the tent said...

The three cities that Jesus cursed also withered away.

In the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13 6-9) the vinedresser, who stands for Jesus Himself, pleads for a temporary reprieve. But the actual, historical, unfruitful figtree is promptly blasted. Perhaps the fate of this innocent figtree is a warning to the figurative(!) figtree of Israel. It's no good just waiting until the time feels right before you bear fruit. It's the time of your visitation that counts, and when that happens you had better be ready with at least some fruit!

Seeing the withered fig tree and perhaps later watching the decline of the three cursed cities would have made the warning impossible to ignore.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

The parable of the fig tree, and most of the parables of Jesus, are clearly intended to warn people not to be "hearers but not doers of [God's] Word." Yet, human nature is such that God's people tend to ignore the warnings, even if the messenger is the Son of God Himself.

Hearing (or reading)the parable of the withered tree, and knowing the fate of the three cities ought to encourage us to heed the warning. Yet, at the end of the day, Jesus' message to each of us is "When you pray, forgive those who have done you wrong, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you."

Anonymous said...

Since it wasn’t time for figs yet, this tree must have really stood out because of its leaves. Figs appear before the leaves, or at least, at the same time as the leaves, so it really makes sense that Jesus cursed the tree’s hypocrisy, so to speak and caused it to wither…it appeared to have value when actually it had none…just like you say: “hearers but not doers of [God’s] Word.”

Mark's "inclusion" then, is "spot on".