The Dove and the Fig Tree

A reading for Monday, June 30, 2014: Matthew 21:12-22.

"...he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves."

The dove was a ancient symbol of the divine. From the earliest writings we have about humanity, there are doves present. Abraham makes covenant with God as God walks through the remains of a dove cut in half to symbolize the sacrifice of God. The dove was a symbol in ancient near eastern cultures of the mother goddess. It was often thought of as the goddess Asherah, who in the Hebrew texts was sometimes known as the consort with the God Yahweh. It's no surprise that this feminine symbol was then used to describe the Holy Spirit. Noah sends out a dove to fly above the flood waters, just as the Spirit of God hovered over the chaos in the beginning, that dove brings back a message of peace. Jesus himself received the Holy Spirit in the image of a dove descending from heaven with the words of the Father, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased." The symbol of the dove is very critical and sacred for God's people.

When Jesus arrives in the Temple, God's people are using the dove as the cheapest of sacrifices. The wealthy and the powerful make sacrifice with expensive bulls and lambs, but the dove is the cheapest. Doves are raised by the hundreds so that there is an ample supply for all those that can only afford the least of sacrificial means. The dove has become a symbol again, this time a cheap means of grace cast off only for the poor and the weak.

Jesus is enraged at their lack of faith and the way the leaders of the temple treat the poor and the needy. They take advantage, lining their pockets with revenue made off their backs, doing nothing to serve those that need help the most. When the poor cry out, praising Jesus as the Son of David, the chief priests are angry and even try to silence them. You "dove sacrificers" have no voice here say the Temple officials. It's no accident that Jesus returns to Bethany to spend the night. Bethany was the neighborhood in Jerusalem where the poorest of the poor lived. It was the ghetto of the city where Jesus chose to dwell.

The next day as Jesus returns to the city, he condemns a fig tree. Again, the ancient near eastern symbolism is key. The fig, and fig tree, was the symbol of protection and prosperity. Adam and Eve sewed its leaves together in the Garden of Eden, the book of Judges mentions the fig as the sweet, delicious fruit desired by all, and "and Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree" (1 Kings 4:25) Similar to the image of "a land of milk and honey" the fig tree was the symbol of blessing and wealth. The symbol of the fig tree again is very critical and sacred for God's people.

So when Jesus goes to the fig tree for blessing, and there is none, the symbolism of our lesson today is complete. The Temple has failed to offer the blessings of peace, protection and prosperity to all God's people. The wealthy and powerful chief priest and other temple leaders are not acting to bless all God's people. No good fruit is to be found there. This is the only miracle in all of scripture in which Jesus uses his power to destroy. The warning is clear...

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”

Our God is a God of justice and demands that blessings be for all of God's people, and never for the privileged. The Holy Spirit is meant to transform all, and God's people are meant to serve all in need. Anyone that stands in the way of that Holy Spirit does so at their peril. The only time Jesus ever prayed to destroy, and asked others to do so as well, was against the desecration of the Temple. Jesus was angry at how the poor and the needy were being treated.

May the servant church, as the symbol of God's people, continue to be a house of prayer. May the dove rest in the branches of the fig tree, abundant in fruit for all. May we too be heard crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”


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