Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara Woods-Washington 2014

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

“As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

‘Faith’ in Mark’s Gospel— a pericope known as ‘The Meaning Of The Withered Fig Tree’ (Mark 11:20-25). It is the first and only Double Tradition of the five and is shared by Matthew where Luke is silent.

Variations include Mark’s account identifying Peter as the disciple who raised the question about the fig tree. The mood of Peter is reflected by his saying to Jesus, “…the tree which you cursed…” as it invokes a response of command— “Have faith in God!”; where in Matthew, Jesus’ response is subjunctive— …”if you have faith in God…” (Matt 21:20-22; 6:14). In addition, Mark’s account relates prayer, believing, receiving and forgiveness to faith in giving meaning to the withered fig tree.

‘Jesus’ Idea Of God’ has become a sub section of Rudolf Bultmann’s chapter titled ‘The Message of Jesus’ in his hallmark work ‘Theology Of The New Testament’. Here he draws attention to Jesus standing in the tradition of ‘prophetic consciousness’ where the sovereignty of God, the absoluteness of His will, determines man’s relativity, relationship and decisions about his world. For Jesus, God is ‘Creator/Governor’ of the World— ‘consider the lilies of the fields…He clothes them all!’. “All anxious care, all haste to get goods to insure life, is therefore senseless— yes, wicked.” Bultmann further recognizes that in the common piety of Jesus’ Judaism, ‘faith in God the Creator’ had weakened and “His sway over the(ir) present could barely still be made out”.

Peter has, in a mood (attitude?) that is difficult to describe, called Jesus’ attention to ‘the tree which he cursed’. What is clear is that he is distracted. åWith no hesitation, without identifiable correlation, Jesus’ response is one of ‘prophetic consciousness’— “Have faith in God”. A very sobering redirection of Peter’s mind, heart and soul. It is significant to note C. F. Mann’s commentary that the phrase ‘have faith in God’ is found nowhere else.

‘Prophetic consciousness’ in our times leads me to recognize that, still again, ‘faith in God’ has so weakened that His sway over our present can barely be made out. The distractions hold us sway drowning out the sobering, redirecting voice speaking the word— HAVE FAITH IN GOD! It occurs to me that Christian theology has served to further weaken this word in that we have made Jesus God; and in our times of ‘constant distraction’ the need is never more greater to ‘know Jesus’, but to ‘KNOW GOD!’ As a single biblical recording, Jesus says to Peter, in his distraction, not have faith in me (Jesus)— HAVE FAITH IN GOD!

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