Keep the Faith
Key Text: Mark 11:22-24
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
It’s a challenging text, to say the least.
Jesus and his disciples are walking past a fig tree one day. It isn’t bearing fruit, though Jesus wants some. He curses the tree and moves on. The next time they pass by the tree, it is withered. The disciples are amazed and point this out. Jesus then proceeds to use this “teachable moment” and instruct the disciples about how if they will only have faith they can “move mountains.” End of object lesson, end of sermon.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you if you have a problem with the story – and Jesus for that matter – if you leave it as I have portrayed things thus far.
I mean, there’s a lot we might take issue with:
- The fact that Jesus rather unfairly – or at least abruptly curses the tree – where is the patient, loving Lord on this occasion?
- The fact that it isn’t always as easy as saying “keep the faith” and miracles will happen. What about those who pray for a miracle that never comes? It isn’t as simple as saying, in a self-righteous way, “Well, clearly, that person just didn’t have enough faith.” Sure, there are plenty of examples where Jesus healed a person while proclaiming “Your faith has made you whole,” but there are also instances when he healed a person where their faith seemed to have nothing to do with it. Is Jesus really that fickle when it comes to whom he heals, when, how and why?
- Jesus tells the disciples they need to “Have faith in God!” Hadn’t they already shown they had great faith in God by following him? Again, why so short-fused with his own, hand-picked Twelve?
These are the kinds of questions that can keep you up at night, or at least, I have found that to be the case.
But let’s step back for a moment.
Let’s look at the text from the perspective of the deeper, spiritual lesson that might be found here.
It is toward the end of Jesus’ earthly life. His authority is being questioned right and left, by his own people. He knows what is coming – denial, persecution, death on a cross. The crowd that has just recently cheered him on during his “triumphal” entry into the holy city will be the same crowd that will soon scream for his blood. He has been trying, in vain, to get his own closest disciples to understand what is unfolding, what it all means, and time is running out.
Put in this context, I think Jesus is doing a lot more than cursing a poor, defenseless tree because he is hungry and it doesn’t have his breakfast ready for him.
Jesus is trying to point out how Israel has been fruitful only in appearance (a tree full of leaves, and no fruit) and spiritually barren. And isn’t it interesting that right in the middle of talking about faith and moving mountains, Jesus suddenly starts talking about forgiveness – what does that have to do with anything? Clearly, he is trying to teach those in earshot much more than just a quick object lesson on getting your own way – whether your own way is a bunch of figs for breakfast or something else.
No, I can’t say I understand all that Jesus was trying to say that morning, standing there before a withered tree. But I think it has much more to do with his reason for coming, the people’s rejection of him, and other great spiritual truths than it might first appear.
We must be careful not to take such a passage, lift it out of context, and proclaim a quick, easy interpretation: “See there, pray hard, have faith, and God will give you whatever you desire!”
Life isn’t that simple. Prayer isn’t that simple. Faith isn’t that simple. Jesus isn’t that simple.
But stick with it. Read stories like this, ponder them, ask God to give you some insight into difficult passages like this one. It’s worth it.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wish the scriptures – I wish Jesus – were just a little easier to understand.
On the other hand, I find time and again, when I honestly pray, “Lord, I just don’t get it. Help me out. What are you trying to tell me – show me – with this odd bit of scripture?” God usually does just that. He shows me something about faith, or prayer, or forgiveness, or something else which is exactly what I need to learn, right then.
Give it a try with this passage. I think you will find a lot more than an angry, hungry Jesus and a pitiful little withered fig tree. I think you will find more than meets the eye. But then again, that’s always the case with Jesus. There’s always more to him than meets the eye.
That’s one of the things I love most about him.