(During Holy Week in the Philippines, things usually grind to a halt — but sadly, not because of spiritual matters. “Holy Week” in this country is no longer synonymous with pausing, quietness, and meditation. It has become one of the most anticipated times because everyone has the time to get out of town and go to the beach. In an effort to create some space for meditation, I usually write down my thoughts during these days, and I hope it will help you move into a more meditative approach to this week.)
One evidence of Jesus’s real humanity was attacks of hunger — something that any normal person would experience. In this case, Jesus was presented with a little bit of hope for his hunger — a fig tree in full bloom. This usually meant that there would be fruit (figs, duh). But alas, there was none to be had.
Usually, we would understand this as a normal story where we can see how Jesus was frustrated with something that happens normally in our lives — to be disappointed and have our hopes cruelly dashed by reality.
But in context, we see that this story is embedded in the time when Jesus came into Jerusalem and discovered how the Jews approached prayer and worship, so we might need to dig into this a bit more.
The Gospel authors knew what they were doing when they put this particular story within the context in which it resides. What normally would be a story of hunger and disappointment — resulting in a dead and withered tree — now becomes a metaphor for what Jesus found most disappointing in the Jews: the appearance of religiosity, but having zero substance in worship and faith.
This was most obvious in the Pharisees, who took their “obedience” to the law to levels not usually reached by normal people. And yet with their strict commitment to the letter of the law, they missed out on what Jesus was looking for — true worship.
Make no mistake about this, the appearance of Christianity does not equate to real faith. An appearance of religiosity does not equate to real worship. And if you’re like me, you would understand that we can do this, week in, week out.
We can dive into the tasks of spiritual disciplines and be so consistent for the sake of consistency, and not be satisfied and sanctified by God’s truth. We can be present in all of the Sunday services and not be refreshed by the presence of God in the gathering of his people.
Tangentially, I also have to mention that I am not encouraging you to be lazy in your spiritual disciplines, or giving you excuses to miss Sunday gatherings. Please do not misunderstand me. You need your spiritual disciplines and you need to attend church on Sundays.
The warning here is to have an appearance of spiritual maturity but in reality, be found lacking substance and, well, the “fruit” of your faith. And here is the encouragement — to relish spiritual disciplines because they point you to Christ and remind you of the Gospel. Attend church because you understand the need for worship and community. Live your life devoted to Christ because you know he is worthy.
This is the only way that we can live lives pleasing to Jesus. May our faith be found fruitful and purposeful for him.