Just like yesterday, we find Mark using the wonderful literary technique called “the sandwich”. He puts a story in the middle of another story, splitting it in half, because the middle story helps us interpret the outer one. We see this again and again in both Mark and Luke, and today’s reading is no different.
Beginning with the Triumphal Entry as the first half of the story, Mark then inserts the cursing of the fig tree, and then completes the sandwich with the clearing of the temple. So first the easy question: why are the Triumphal Entry and the Cleansing of the Temple the same story?
In Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, everyone knew that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem as a king and then go straight to the temple to bring reform. This Jesus did, but in a very different way than expected as was His custom. He rides in not as a conquering hero but as a humble ruler, riding a donkey and hearing passages from Ps. 118: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” He then travels to the temple and drives out the money-changers who were cheating their customers and making it impossible for the Gentiles who were in that part of the temple courtyard to worship. Reform indeed.
So the second question is this: How does the cursing of the fig tree interpret the other story? As we see in the rest of scripture where fruit is used as a metaphor for obedience, bearing fruit means faithfulness and barrenness of fruit means faithlessness. Jesus rides in to the shouts of a crowd who would a week later shout for His crucifixion: fruitless followers. He then goes in to cleanse the temple: fruitless priests. And the section concludes with the head honchos of the day seeking to kill Jesus: fruitless leaders. As He nears the crucifixion, Jesus identifies the primary problem with humankind: fruitlessness.
What fruit are you bearing? How much fruit do you bear in your life? Take some time today to praise God for that fruit and to ask Him to bear more in you every day.