Tag Archives: Judgment

Leaves Without Fruit

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.”

—Mark 11:11–26

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Accursed_Fig_Tree_(Le_figuier_maudit)_-_James_TissotThis passage from Mark is a tricky one to understand. At first glance, it seems as though Jesus cursed the fig tree out of spite when it didn’t provide Him with food. Why not bless the tree with abundant fruit, just as He multiplied the loaves and fishes, instead of condemning it to wither and die? Mark even notes that figs were out of season at the time. Why would Jesus curse the tree, then, for not providing figs? It seems a rather extreme reaction.

But for the early Church, who were better acquainted with the fig trees of Israel, this story took on different meaning. When fig leaves would appear around the end of March, they were joined by small, edible buds, called taqsh, which fell off before the real fig was formed. Peasants would often eat the taqsh to assuage their hunger. But if no taqsh appeared, then there would be no figs on the tree that year at all.

So when Mark notes that “it was not the time for figs,” he is referring to this period when taqsh would typically grow. When Jesus looked to the fig tree to find sustenance, He saw a tree with leaves but no taqsh—meaning there would be no fruit to come, either. From a distance, it was flourishing with leaves, but up close, there was nothing of substance. Jesus recognized that, just like the fig tree, many people put on a good show of piety but had no signs or intentions of good fruits to follow. They were all outward appearance.

In the middle of this story we hear Mark’s account of Jesus rebuking the money-changers in the temple. There is a parallel drawn between the fruitless fig tree and those who desecrated the house of the Lord: these men spent their days at the temple, but they had no interest in actually worshiping God. They, too, were all show with no signs of fruit.

KKSgb2948-67The fig tree is a symbol used throughout Scripture to signify peace and prosperity for Israel. It requires patience and attention in order to grow and thrive, but it delivers rich rewards, bringing both a shady resting place and delicious fruit. The money changers sought shade without fruit, capitalizing on the community surrounding the temple while paying no regard to its sacred purpose. But for Jesus, their leaves could not conceal the barrenness of their hearts.

Jesus curses the fig tree as a reminder to us all that we do not know when our time for judgment will come. We may or may not have developed fruit when that time arrives, but He expects to see in us a desire for true growth and fruitful service. We cannot assume that we can wait until next year to pay attention to what God is asking of us. He doesn’t expect perfection but presence. Jesus does not judge us based on our achievements or accomplishments but on our openness to channel His life-giving grace in all its fullness, however He wishes to manifest His fruit in us.


1. James Tissot, The Accursed Fig Tree / PD-US
2. Hans Simon Holtzbecker, Ficus carica / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Preparing for His Second Coming

Adam lay ybounden,

Bounden in a bond;

Four thousand winter

Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,

An apple that he took,

As clerkès finden

Written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been,

The apple taken been,

Ne had never our lady

Abeen heavenè queen.

Blessèd be the time

That apple taken was,

Therefore we moun singen,

Deo gracias!

 

Adam waited for four thousand years, bound in the place of death until Christ came to free him with Eve and the rest of the patriarchs on Holy Saturday.  The king our food who came in the manger will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

 

Advent calls for repentance, for purging, for purgatory on earth.  We must strive to be worthy to receive him.  What an honor to be a poor shepherd visited by angels in the sky.  What an honor to be a sheep grazing in the cave.  What an honor to be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.  Their honor brings us gain.  The incarnation makes Christ more adorable.  We can love him as a mother loves her child.

 

Il est né le divin enfant,
Jouez hautbois, résonnez musettes !
Il est né le divin enfant,
Chantons tous son avènement !

 

He is born, the Heav’nly Child,
Oboes play; set bagpipes sounding
He is born, the Heav’nly Child.
Let all sing His nativity.

 

The image of Madonna and Child has power because it shows God’s descent into helplessness.  He took on flesh and drank milk from the breast.  For our sakes he who had riches took on poverty.  The maker of the universe learned carpentry from his earthly father.  He became a fashioner of wood who would later die on a piece of wood.

 

We must strive to imitate our spiritual mother, Mary, and not our fleshly mother, Eve.  As Eve received condemnation for taking the fruit off the tree, so Mary garners blessing for mankind by putting the fruit of her womb back on the tree.  Eve’s choice brings us damnation while Mary’s fiat ushers in salvation.

 

Zechariah received the news of John the Baptist with a heard heart, but Mary heard Gabriel’s words with a soft heart.  We beat the breast when we say Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa to break our hearts of stone that God may replace them with hearts of flesh.  We must be born again, washed clean of original sin.

 

At the end of time every knee will bow before the Son.  Let us bend the knee by the manger in preparation for that day.  Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Let us laud him now.  Adeste fideles.  The alternative to joy is damnation, of which Jesus warns in Luke:

There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.

When we see terrifying signs of the Messiah, we should take joy.  The turmoil around us will become destruction on our heads if we do not obey him and repent.  Jesus proceeds to preach:

Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.

Advent calls for incessant prayers for ourselves and others lest we fall away.  We must prepare if we wish to rejoice.

Justice Is Not Always Comforting

To state a tautology, we all deserve justice. Moreover, most people will, I think claim to desire justice if asked. And, since God is not only supreme but also supremely just, we will all ultimately get justice, if not in this life then certainly in the next. On the surface this last sounds good, but it is not really a comforting thought.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines justice as

“the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion.’ Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor” (CCC 1807).

This definition might explain why “religion” is not a bad word and why all right-thinking Christians ought to embrace rather than shun it. But it bears a bit of explanation as to what “getting justice” or “doing justice” means. Justice might be served, I suppose, by fulfilling the ends to which it is ordered: namely, rendering what is due to each of God, neighbor, and, for good measure, Ceaser (who often tries to play to part of both God and neighbors).

Justice is something which God wills for us, and which He will ultimately see done for us, since this is in accordance with His nature. Being just is something which we must do for each other, because it is something which each man owes to his neighbors, to himself, and especially to God.

What is justice towards God? He tells us this Himself:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

This commandment to ” love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” is repeated by Christ and called the greatest commandment, after which is given the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). These two commandments are the fulfillment of the whole law, and we cannot really fulfill the one without fulfilling the others (see 1 John 4:20): so these two are justice perfected by charity [1]. In love, the Law is fulfilled.

Who among us can claim to love perfectly? No one, unless we count the Lord Himself. We all ultimately fall short of justice, though justice is what we owe to others and to God. What is justice to one who is not just? I suspect that the “wrathful” Psalms give us but a taste. To quote only one (Psalm 7:4-7, 15-17):

LORD my God, if I have done this,
if there is guilt on my hands,
If I have maltreated someone treating me equitably—
or even despoiled my oppressor without cause—
Then let my enemy pursue and overtake my soul,
trample my life to the ground,
and lay my honor in the dust.

Rise up, LORD, in your anger;
be aroused against the outrages of my oppressors.
Stir up the justice, my God, you have commanded….

Consider how one conceives iniquity;
is pregnant with mischief,
and gives birth to deception.
He digs a hole and bores it deep,
but he falls into the pit he has made.
His malice turns back upon his head;
his violence falls on his own skull.
I will thank the LORD in accordance with his justice;
I will sing the name of the LORD Most High.

In essence, this Psalm says that the unjust one will be pursued by the enemy (Satan) who will overtake his soul; and that injustice is turned back on us. This is true not only of the injustices we commit, but of the justices which we omit (see Matthew 25:31-46).

We all fall well short of perfect charity, and further we fall short of justice, if not towards our neighbors, then at least towards God (Who has a limitless claim on us). “Do not call your servant to judgment for no one is just in your sight” (Psalm 143:2).

Fortunately, justice is not the end of the story. God is not only just, but also is merciful (Psalm 103:6, 8), if we will accept that mercy and reflect it to others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). For us, mercy is one of the fruits of charity (CCC 1829) and is the virtue by which we are moved by compassion for—and where possible, seek to alleviate—the suffering of others. So, too, does God’s mercy alleviate our suffering, be it eternal or (sometimes) temporal.

However, because true mercy does not abrogate justice, it can be granted only at a cost or risk to oneself.

 

—-Footnotes—-

[1] It should be noted here that there is an interplay between the cardinal virtue of justice and the theological virtue of charity. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that “charity leads us to help our neighbor in his need out of our own stores, while justice teaches us to give to another what belongs to him.” Saint Thomas Aquinas notes that “the proper act of justice is nothing else than to render to each one his own” (STII-IIQ58A11). However, he also notes buy way of objection and reply that whereas “justice is love serving God alone” (St Augustine), yet “love of God includes love of our neighbor…so too the service of God includes rendering to each one his due” (STII-IIQ58A1).