If you have a younger sibling then you’ve heard this before: “She did it! Why can’t I?” I know I’ve heard it in my house on numerous occasions, especially when the younger kiddo wonders out loud “What about me?”
But sometimes (actually, many times) the younger child isn’t developmentally ready to take on the task that her bigger sister is doing. This happened recently as one daughter was walking to her bus stop by herself for the first time. My pre-schooler wanted to walk by herself too. Uh, I don’t think so! Not ready yet, baby girl. Daddy still needs to hold your hand when we walk on the road.
That’s why we followers of Jesus need to keep this in mind as we “grow up” in the faith. And why those of us who are maturing in the faith need to be both patient and loving with those who are “younger” in the faith than us.
We see a classical example of this challenge in today’s Gospel Lesson. Jesus is doing some pretty radical acts, and assuming we can do them too or even have the right or warrant to do them could cause a great deal of trouble!
Look at our Lesson today in Matthew 21:12-14; 17-20:
At that time, Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.” And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?”
OK, so these are some amazing examples of the Lord’s authority, not just for those who were witnessing these events, but for us today as well. At the very least we see that God’s House is primarily a place of prayer, not commerce, not a social club, nor even a place where “old friends” gather to wax nostalgic about the past, but a place of communion with God and His people. By the way, where these shops had been set up was in the Court of the Gentiles, the place where even foreigners were welcome to come and learn about God. Isn’t it a shame when we steal a place for the outsider to know God away from him so that we can maintain our “exclusive” club?
And what can I say about that poor fig tree? The simplest lesson is this: Either produce the fruit you are suppose to produce or know that, in the failure to be what you were created to be you will truly “wither” to nothing. I guess we should really focus on learning what we were created to be!
Now before you go into church next Sunday and start “driving out” the money changers and all those folks who you think don’t measure up; or before you start “cursing” any barren “fig trees” in your parish, stop! Take a deep breath! And then do the most difficult thing in your life. Turn that critical eye on your own heart. Because the temple you must first cleanse is the temple of your own heart, and the “fig tree” you must first examine for fruit is your own soul. Only when you’ve matured to the point where those places are perfectly aligned with God’s will will you ever be able to start “cleansing” others!
Today, are there places in your heart where inappropriate “shop keepers” have set up shop? Is there room in your heart for the stranger to find God? Is your life producing the fruit you were created to produce? Please do this work first before you imagine you have the warrant or the freedom to “cleanse” other’s temples. Take advantage of the fasting seasons of the Church Year, go to confession, be a consistent participant in the liturgies and prayers of the Church. Do all those disciplines that “grow” you up into a mature believer. Then you will best know how to assist others in their growth in Christ. Then you’ll be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. This is Fr. Barnabas’ last few days of vacation this year. He wanted to tell you how grateful he is for your prayers. God bless and have a great weekend.