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that they cannot open them. First they will not see; afterwards they cannot.
THE FRUITLESS, LEAFY TREE.
St. Matthew xxi. 10, 11; St. Mark xi. 11-14.
St. Matthew xxi.-And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
St. Mark xi.-And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
"Who is this?" ask the people of Jerusalem. So soon had they forgotten Him. Or they wonder to find Him, who had hitherto shrunk from popularity, have such a following. The multitude, composed chiefly of those who had come from Galilee, where most of His mighty works were done, justify their conduct in describing Him as a Prophet of their own. The first place He makes for on entering into Jerusalem is the Temple. He takes note of those scandals there which on the morrow He proceeds to correct. So the day seems to have been spent. And when now the eventide was come, He retires for the night to Bethany, escorted only by the Twelve. On the morrow, returning to Jerusalem, He was hungry. He had not stayed for breakfast. Perhaps no breakfast was forthcoming where He lodged. He was content to stay those pains of hunger, which as man He felt, with the fruit of the fig-trees which grew wild by the road side. It was not yet
generally the season for figs; yet some trees were more forward than others, and on those which, by thus early putting forth leaves, showed that they had enjoyed a more favourable soil and situation, fruit might even then be found.' At all events the time for gathering figs, the fig-harvest as we might call it, was not yet come. So that it could not be pleaded that the figs had been already gathered. It is plain therefore that this was altogether a barren tree. It was also, regarded allegorically, a showy, pretentious, hypocritical one, with its wealth of leaves and its dearth of fruit; "yielding nothing but an empty shade to the mis-hoping traveller; fit emblem of the Jewish people, leafy but fruitless. "Jesus answered and said unto it." The tree when interrogated as it were, when examined and questioned (for "its pomp of leaves" challenged such inquiry), had nothing to justify its vainglorious boast. It was the case of this people in a figure. They claimed to be the children of Abraham, but where were the works of Abraham? Jesus Christ, being both God and Man, acted now according to the one nature, now according to the other. His hunger, His quest, were human; His judgment was Divine. And this judgment was no passionate emotion, the resentment of a disappointed person. Therein the Jewish Church might read its doom. "The sin of barrenness is justly punished with the plague of barrenness . . . He that is fruitless, let him be fruitless still." 5 This
1 St. Matt. xxi. 34, 41.
2 "I have learned that Thou, O Saviour, wert wont not to speak only but to work parables."-Bp. Hall. "For what was this but the parable of 'The barren Fig-tree' displayed in act, instead of rehearsed in language?" -A Plain Commentary. Compare 1 Ki. xi. 29–31.
3 Bp. Hall.
5 "Christ did not attribute moral responsibilities to the tree... but He did attribute to it a fitness for representing moral qualities. All our language concerning trees, a good tree, a bad tree, a tree which ought to bear, is the same continual transfer to
them of moral qualities, and a witness for the natural fitness of the Lord's language--the language indeed of an act, rather than of words. By His word however (Luke xiii. 6-9) He had already in some sort prepared His disciples for understanding and interpreting His act; and the not unfrequent use of this very symbol in the Old Testament, as at Hos. ix. 10; Joel i. 7, must have likewise assisted them here."-Id. He notes also the Greek proverbial expressions derived from this word, signifying a poor, strengthless man, unhelpful help, &c. To which may be added our own expression, coming probably from an Eastern source, "I don't care a fig."
tree met with judgment, that men, being warned thereby,1 may find mercy.
HE PURGETH THE TEMPLE.
St. Mark xi. 15-18.
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.
This is the second occasion during our Lord's ministry on which we find him thus purifying the Temple; purging the Holy Place of those who were so profaning it. This we find him doing at the beginning of His ministry; this he has to do again (for the evil had again gathered strength) at its majestic close. He comes into "the Temple of God,”3 into what he calls "My House," so claiming to be God; but what is the spectacle that greets the eyes of Zion's Lord and King when suddenly He comes to His Temple? For prayer He finds profanation; "the House of God" made into "a den of
So also Hor. Sat. viii. 1. Jer. Taylor (Life of Christ, Sect. xv.) refers to the tradition that this was the forbidden tree.
1 "His miracles of mercy were unnumbered, and on men; His miracle of judgment was but one, and on a tree."--Abp. Trench. St. Matt. iii. 8-10; Heb. vi, 8.
2 St. John ii. 13-17. "I... view the omission of the first in the synoptic accounts as in remarkable consistency with what we otherwise gather from the three Gospels-that their narrative is exclusively Galilæan until this last journey to Jerusalem."-Alford. 3 St. Matt. xxi. 12.
• Mal. iii. 1.
thieves." For here He not only, as in that former instance, rebukes the traffic, but has to note also the abuses which too commonly accompany the same; to reprove those who not only transformed the Temple of religion into a mart for merchandise, but who introduced also into the House of God those frauds and petty acts which are discreditable even in the markets of men. It is evident that our Lord acted again throughout this transaction with an air and an authority different altogether to that which any merely zealous man, any ordinary reformer of morals, might have assumed. The majesty of the King shines through the garb of the servant. He acts herein with the air of conscious deity. He stands confest; the very Son of God.2 Standing in that Court of the Gentiles, hindering it from being made any more a thoroughfare, He reminds them of the forgotten prophecy,3 which not only described the purpose of the place, but foretold also the people for whom it was provided; applying to Himself the words; an application which implies His Divinity. To be called, in Scripture phrase signifies to be." From all this we may learn the reverence due to holy places," as also the main object for which such are given. Prayer is our proper business here. A Church is not a place to which we come once a week simply to listen to the eloquence of a preacher. It is the place for the worship and service of God; and the worship and service of God ought to be the first object of all who frequent the place.
THE CHILDREN IN THE TEMPLE.
St. Matthew xxi. 14-16.
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying. Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
His work of judgment in purging the Temple, and now His works of mercy in healing the blind and lame who came thither to Him, having heard of what He had done to others in like case, evidenced the justice of His claim. The chief priests and scribes could find no fault with the former. It was an evident abuse, which they had winked at. But the latter filled them with anger. As before the Pharisees in the crowd, so now these in the Temple, call upon Him to silence those simple souls who chanted His praise. They would have Him disclaim that He was the promised descendant of David, the Messiah, whom His works proclaimed Him to be. They professed to be scandalized. Can He really hear what these are saying? They are attributing to Him Divine honour. The Lord admits it; nor will He reject the honour due, or renounce His just claim. He in His turn will ask them a question; ask these professed interpreters of the Law how they came to act as if they had never read what was written in the Law. Surely they should have recognised in this conduct of the children a further fulfilment of the Scripture. The Psalm which speaks of young children 2
1 St. Luke xix. 39.
2 "As Hebrew mothers did not wean their children till they were three years old, this is no mere figure of
speech."-Perowne on Ps. viii. 2. See
2 Macc. vii. 27. The Psalm is cited of Christ in 1 Cor. xv. 27; Eph. i. 22; Heb. ii. 6-8.