Commentary on the Gospel of
As we approach Memorial Day in the U.S., many will visit cemeteries to honor the dead. We know some of them personally, others only by stories, and still others only from the information on their tombstones. We pause to remember them, to give thanks, and to hope they have found an eternal reward for their toils and trouble here.
Sirach’s words about our ancestors resonate deeply. We often worry about the legacy we will leave behind after our anxious toil is ended, but even a strong legacy grows thin in two or three generations. Our finite capacity for remembrance, affection, and honor is carefully rationed among those nearest to us. We are left to focus on sowing our seed, tending to our weeds, and trusting the Lord for downstream effects.
Today’s gospel presents some complementary lessons about fruitfulness. The story begins with Jesus going to the temple, looking around, and returning to the country, likely pondering troubling images in his heart. Jesus returned to the temple the next day with a strong lesson plan. Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree on the way and wanted to eat some fruit, but “it was not the time for figs.” Jesus responded by cursing that empty tree, which withered and died by the next morning, never to bear fruit again.
Yikes! As if we didn’t have enough to worry about over our thin prospects of legacy! Some commentators comfort us by suggesting that our Lord likely expected to find green figs on the tree, a starchier but nutritious alternative to the ripened figs that were not ready. So, perhaps that tree was all show, no substance. And the opportunity to be fruitful ended for this tree; likewise, for each of us.
The gospel continues with Jesus’ tough encounters with the temple vendors. Money changers and purveyors of sacrificial animals had an essential role to play in the temple economy, facilitating acts of worship. Jesus’ forceful response includes teaching about prayer, all of which leave us with challenging questions. What does God expect of us? What important truths are we overlooking while fulfilling our daily duties, like these temple vendors? Was there too much selling and too little praying? Were the prayers also missing something important?
Jesus also tells the disciples that when we pray, “forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance….” This is a tall order, Jesus. Do you know the things people have said, done, and not done that have injured me? Grievances can become such a part of us that we find ourselves clinging to them, even though they are not good for us.
These honest questions may become part of our prayer. In the stillness that follows, we may hear Jesus say, “Yes, I do.” We then recall that Jesus has gone there first, and we are called to follow him.
How might these lessons shape our prayers? Will we ask for a sign -- for a mountain to be cast into the sea? Or will we instead seek after goodness – including the good of forgiveness and the transformation that comes from opening up channels for mercy by extending it to others? Perhaps this is the fruit God is seeking from us.
Lord, today help us to ponder honestly, to listen patiently, and to trust you for the answers we need. We have no real control over today, let alone tomorrow. All time is in your hands. Help us to leave pretense aside and honestly and humbly come to you as we are, seeking your mercy and sharing its blessings with others. Thanks be to God.