In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 3, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
We’re now at the bookend of the story surrounding the cleansing of the Temple. Having cursed the fig tree and then run the moneychangers out of the Temple, Jesus and the disciples pass by the next day only to find the tree withered. Which leads, almost inexplicably, to a brief discourse on prayer and faith.
Except it’s not inexplicable when you think of the context. First, the context of the story: Jesus is on the brink of crucifixion. He has told his disciples this, but there is no indication that they understand or really believe his words. Yet they soon will see that all he has said will come to pass. And they will be alone, so utterly alone. And so perhaps this brief word of encouragement and promise is what they will hold on to when the time comes. “Have faith in God…. Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
But there is a second context to consider as well: that of the community of believers for whom Mark writes. Because whatever else he is doing, Mark is also crafting this scene with his own people in mind. And, as far as we can tell, they were community of believers who have been scattered, felt betrayed, suffered tension and heartbreak and more. “Have faith in God…. Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
But also forgive, Jesus says. Forgive that you may also know and experience forgiveness in turn. Because here is the difficult truth, the truth for Jesus’ disciples, for Mark’s congregation, and for us: We will disappoint ourselves and others, and we be disappointed by others as well. More than that, we will hurt and be hurt. And all that is left to us is forgiveness – for others, and from others and from God for ourselves.
So where are you just now? At your wits end, disappointed, a disappointment, hurting. These words are for you. And if you are not at any of these places right now, give thanks. But save the words somewhere, for at some future time they may be all you have to hold on to: “Have faith in God…. Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive.”
Prayer: Dear God, encourage us to come to you always, with joys, fears, gratitude, hurt, and all the rest. For you will always hear us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.