STRENGTH FOR THE WEEK: Flood Church’s Weekly Devotional
SERIES 1: The Voice of God
A Destructive Voice
“…Jesus was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” (Matthew 21:19)
There is a side of Jesus we are accustomed not to talk about, even when it is right in front of us. There is a dimension of his being that we avoid looking at, even when it is staring us in the face. There is very little we find likable about this portrayal of Jesus. What incredible barriers of dishonesty the gospel writers must have pushed through in order to follow the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to even leave a record of it for us! And now that we have a true testimony of it, it is we who must push through the incredible barriers of discomfort to come to terms with Jesus as he really is, not as we wish him to be. True Christianity makes an earnest effort to get us saved by Jesus, not to keep us safe from Jesus.
The evangelists Matthew and Mark both tell of a morning on which Jesus did two things that make him look unhinged. He went over to a tree and talked to it and destroyed it permanently because it did not have fruit when he was hungry for some. What’s even more astonishing in Mark’s version of this event is that Jesus took this destructive measure against a tree that was not incapable of bearing fruit. He says it had no fruit not because it couldn’t bear any, but “because it was not the season for figs”. We cannot help but think that to expect a tree to have fruit when it is not in season is to expect too much. Jesus looks more impatient than we are used to, more harsh than we are used to, and more demanding than we are used to. He looks more inconsiderate than we are used to, for he destroys the tree so that “no one” else may ever eat fruit from it again. This suggests that other passersby had enjoyed fruit from the tree before and may yet have enjoyed fruit from it again. It is an inconvenient truth that Jesus decides the fate of all creation not on the basis of its relationship and benefit to all other things, but on the basis of its relationship and benefit to himself at the time he comes to examine it. And when he does come to examine his creation, he will not entertain such reasonable excuses as “if only you had given more time!”
It is not possible to fully grasp this destructive power of Jesus. When we are impatient, it is because we are sinful, either because of idolatry (desperate for things other than God to give us meaning), or because we are ignorant (wanting things without knowing all the implications of having them), or because we are fearful (not trusting that God’s timing is an expression of his goodness). We therefore have no experience by which to understand the unique nature by which Jesus could have been impatient, self-centered, or demanding and destructive in Spirit that is not associated with sinfulness. We have no qualifications by which to scale the mountain of his being to see how it is possible for him to take vengeance without being vindictive, to judge without being judgmental, to curse without cursing, to destroy without being careless, to kill without murdering, to reduce his own creation to ruins without reducing it in dignity. He destroys the tree with his own voice (the same voice that created it), and by talking to it as a man talks to his favorite horse before he puts it down because it can no longer serve him. When we hear this voice of Jesus, in this incomprehensible light that blinds and disorient us, we are seeing and hearing a being who is not like us, a being who does not exist to be liked by us, a being who has not come to like us, and a being we cannot make to become like us. When we hear this voice of God, we see Jesus as he really is; the only appropriate response is to marvel at him as the disciples did. Our true identity is to be worshipers of this God who is forever unlike us, and yet made us to forever be like him.
-Keep the Faith