Read Mark 11:12-26
In the tradition of the Church, the first three days of Holy Week recount the anointing of Jesus on Monday, the cleansing of the Temple on Tuesday, and what came to be known as “Spy Wednesday,” our Lord’s betrayal by Judas, on Wednesday. But in keeping with the readings of the daily lectionary, the cleansing of the Temple, is the one designated for today. We will go with that.
It is interesting that Mark encapsulates his account of the cleansing within the only miracle that Jesus does during His final week. The miracle of the fig tree is not only the sole miracle during Passion Week, it is the only “judgment” miracle recorded in the Gospels. It has always seemed unreasonable to me that Jesus would curse the tree because it had no fruit when, as Mark records, “it was not the season for figs.” But fig trees do produce what are called taksh, which are green pods and appear on the branches before the leaves. Peasants would often pick the trees clean before the fruit had an opportunity to bud. It may be that Jesus was looking for the taksh, but the pilgrims coming to the feast beat Him to it. Regardless, Peter must have related the story to Mark, and most probably applied it to the event in the Temple. The fig tree has often been seen as a symbol of Israel (cf. Joel 2:21-23), and the cursing of the fig tree by our Lord was symbolic of the inability of Israel to produce fruits of righteousness at the dawn of the Messianic age.
The Lord not only gave the parabolic message of judgment, He also used the encounter with the tree as a teaching tool. When Peter noted the withered tree the following morning, Jesus replied, “Have faith in God.” That is an interesting response to Peter’s exclamation. Jesus, is less interested in their understanding of what happened to the tree than He is in helping them understand and believe in the power of prayer. He says, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”