I had an “ah-ha” moment the other day.
I was reading Mark 11 which has a part in it that I have never really understood. In Mark 11, we see Jesus in the triumphal entry, cleansing the temple, cursing the fig tree which is out of season, saying that praying to get rid of a mountain will work, and with a call to forgive people at the end. My ah-ha moment came as two things at once.
The first was that I realised all the sections were about the same thing. The triumphal entry is the coming of the king. The stopping of the temple is a prophetic action declaring that the temple system will stop, and a new regime will come. The cursing of the fig tree (Israel’s signature tree) is saying that the nation will fall. Jesus’ talk about praying that a mountain will fall away is about the temple mount. “This” mountain, the temple mount, will stop and fall. The phrase “whatever we pray for” is in the context of praying to ask God to stop a destructive system. The chapter then ends with Jesus saying that we need to forgive people.
In this, I have often wondered about the fig tree being out of season. Why did Jesus curse it when it couldn’t be expected to have fruit? I did some digging and found that fig trees will fruit and then come into leaf. Early fruit appears and then they develop their leaves. This tree had leaves so it should have had fruit. It was saying, “notice me, I have fruit,” when in reality, it didn’t. And, indeed, it was out of season, when it shouldn’t have been acting like that at all. Something was seriously out of sync with that tree. It was a tree that wrongly promised fruit out of season, but failed miserably. The out-of-season comment shows just how messed up the tree was. Symbolically, something was seriously wrong with the situation there. Out-of-season religious leaders were promising “fruit” and acting like they had access to God, but in reality, they didn’t. It had all gone horribly wrong.
In mission, we often run into systems that are dysfunctional, corrupt, destructive and evil. I’ve seen the rights of minorities, including Christian minorities, being trampled over. This ranges from political disenfranchisement, to land grabs, to outright violence and oppression. The temple system was fleecing the poor, and Jesus said it would fall. Similarly, we can be sure that, in the end, evil systems will fall. We can say to them “fall into the sea” and they will.
And this leads me to the second element of my ah-ha moment: the call to forgive at the end. The mountain (temple system) may fall, and the system will come to an end, but we are called to forgive people. In this, I thought of the Berlin Wall. There were many of us who were against communism and recognised the evil there; but for many, there was also a great love for the people caught up in it.
The system was wrong. As were people. We can stop the system but still love and forgive the people involved. Last week I sat with a Romanian who heads a mission which has sixty-one Romanians working in mission abroad. That is almost as many as the British mission agency I work with. They had come to faith through love and were now passing that on. Thinking back to 1989, that is a miracle.
God is about big changes. Changing systems. Bringing in new things. There are many systems out there that promise much but are like diseased trees. We can pray that these fall, but are reminded to also work for forgiveness.
If you want to look deeper into our responsibilities as missional people to stand up against oppressive systems, why not consider an MA in Contemporary Missiology with Redcliffe, and maybe specialise in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation? Deeply understand our complex world, and study as you work with part-time blended learning. What’s more, Colin is the course leader! Contact us today to have an initial conversation.
The image above is graffiti found on the Mauerpark section of the Berlin Wall, depicting the interplay between contrasting political and social systems across the globe.