As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” – Mark 11:20-25
Martin Luther said, “A god is that to which we look as the highest good in life.” That being the case, it may be the TV – especially during March Madness – or our investment portfolio, family, car, computer, or even our reflection in the mirror. All of these things can become our highest good in life. But none are able to save us. None will call us to account. None will hear and answer our prayers. None will forgive our sins.
The encounter with the withered fig tree, together with Jesus’ teaching about prayer and forgiveness provide us with a reminder of God’s true power and our need to conform to his standards. He is not something that can be turned on or off. He is not merely a source of financial gain or loss. God is not domesticated: someone we order around, ignore or attend to on our schedule, or use when we please. Our God is not an insurance policy, a curiosity, or a source of distraction and entertainment.
Jesus urges faith in God: the true God, the Creator of the universe, the One to whom we will give an account, the One who answers prayer, the One forgives and demands that we forgive others, the One to whom the clay does not say, “Why did you form me this way?”
Our God does, however, hear us when we pray. He forgives sins: yours, mine, and our neighbors’. Our God has come to earth to show us fully what he is like. He has done that in Jesus who cursed the fig tree, taught about prayer and forgiveness, healed, forgave sinners, challenged saints, walked on water, raised the dead, then went to the cross for us, tasting death and swallowed it up in victory. We dare not try to judge him, for he will come again and judge the living and the dead.
Jesus cursed a fig tree and the next day it is withered. Like or understand it or not, that’s what happened. Jesus didn’t ask for permission to curse the fig tree. He doesn’t answer to anyone for his actions. He simply acts. And he teaches. In this case Jesus makes the point of the power of faith, the confidence we can have in prayer, and the need to forgive.
I am struck at Jesus’ teaching here on forgiveness. It is essential to our relationship with God and with all people. Having faith in God means that we embrace his forgiveness, pray with confidence in his goodness and faithfulness, and realize that his goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness is available to all people. We dare not withhold it from anyone, or presume that we are not in need of him and his salvation.