Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying,
‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?
But you have made it a den of robbers.’
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
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.
‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’
Over the last year there has been much talk of financial crises. Every business has felt the pressure of lockdown and isolation. The Church has been no different. Despite the generosity of committed members of Church communities, incomes have fallen and investments have yielded little, but the bills have kept rolling in. Even though ingenious ways have been found to keep the mission of the Church alive, there has been much talk of online services not providing a vehicle for participants to put their ‘money in the plate’. Over the last year, the Church has found itself pushed into a corner where it has had to seriously consider how it might engage with ways of raising much-needed cash! The Church is now in danger of colluding with those ruthless profiteering money lenders whom Jesus so famously condemned in the gospels.
For many of us the thought of our beloved churches being used as market places seems anathema. Our churches are holy places, places of prayer and worship. This is so ingrained in many communities that they are transformed from living places where the faithful are nurtured, fed and empowered into museums, places where prayer and worship take place but where that has become an end in its own right.
Many of the churches in this part of rural England are almost one thousand years old. When they were built, and through centuries of their history, they were the very hub of their communities. Village meetings and social events co-existed alongside the daily spiritual disciplines of prayer and worship. As the life of the community went on, prayer was offered and bells were rung to remind villagers of the holiness of the place and of the time. Our churches were really at the heart of every community, and not just because of their geographic location.
In more recent times fixed and uncomfortable seating was installed in the spaces that had previously been used by all; the division between the religious and secular lives of the communities began, developed and became entrenched. Even that seating was used as an indication of status and influence.
In today’s reading Jesus is reminding us of the danger of creating an insurmountable demarcation line between the spiritual life of our churches and the wider communities they are called to serve. We are called to break down the ‘holier than thou’ façade that divides people. We are called to forgive each other, and to pray for each other. We are called to live the life Christ lived in the midst of the beauty and the wonders of the totality of God’s creation. We are called to step from behind the cash register, and we are called to love and serve in the spirit of total generosity modelled by Jesus as he gave his entire life for us.