Piety has its own good manners. Learn them.

The Gospel reading today, I think, can be confusing at times. Certainly, when Jesus came upon the fig tree, He knew that it would not have fruit because it was not the season for figs. After reading into the matter a bit, I learned that before figs comes a “precursor fruit.” Because Jesus didn’t find this precursor, He knew that the tree would be fruitless, even when it came time for fig season. After this incident Jesus exhorts His disciples to “have faith in God”. They are to pray with expectant faith no matter how difficult the situation may be. The phrase “to remove mountains” was a common Jewish expression for removing difficulties. A wise teacher who could solve difficulties was called a “mountain remover”. If we pray with faith God will give us the means to overcome difficulties and obstacles. If we want God to hear our prayers we must forgive those who wrong us as God has forgiven us. Our Lord is teaching us something about the power of prayer as He curses a fig tree and teaches lessons on faith and prayer. The purpose of this message is to encourage us to all be better prayer warriors.
The Fathers of the Church, whose interpretation St. Bede reflects in his commentary on this passage, tells us that the miracle has an allegorical purpose: Jesus had come among His own people, the Jews, hungry to find fruit of holiness and good works, but all He found were external practices–leaves without fruit. Similarly, when He enters the temple, He upbraids those present for turning the temple of God, which is a house of prayer (prayer is the fruit of piety), into a place of commerce (mere leaves). “So you”, St. Bede concludes, “if you do not want to be condemned by Christ, should guard against being a barren tree, by offering to Jesus, who made Himself poor, the fruit of piety which He expects of you” (“In Marci Evangelium Expositio, in loc.”).

God wants both fruit and foliage; when, because the right intention is missing, there are only leaves, only appearances, we must suspect that there is nothing but purely human action, with no supernatural depth-behavior which results from ambition, pride and a desire to attract attention.

“We have to work a lot on this earth and we must do our work well, since it is our daily task that we have to sanctify. But let us never forget to do everything for God’s sake. If were to do it ourselves, out of pride, we could produce nothing but leaves, and no matter how luxuriant they were, neither God nor our fellow man would find any good in them” (St. J. Escriva, “Friends of God”, 202).

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