by David Morson
Monday of Holy Week has been designated Fig Monday because Jesus curses the Fig Tree for bearing no fruit. However, in Holy Week, only Matthew and Mark record this incident. John does not mention it at all and Luke records it much earlier in his Gospel 13:6-9, not as an incident which actually happened, like Matthew and Mark, but in parable form. So, it is somewhat of a mystery but most scholars believe real or parable it pointed is a message which relates to those in authority who make a great show of their faith but produce no results. Whatever, this sets the scene for the conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish Authorities in the next two days which were going to lead them to plot His Death.
Significantly, Matthew and Mark place this incident straight after Jesus has driven the money changers out of the Temple, stating that, “His Father’s House was a House of prayer and they had made it a den of thieves”.
There is so much to relate about this incident. The first Temple was built by Solomon 970 -930 BC to House the Ark of The Covenant, the box containing the 10 Commandments. But, it was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians before taking the Jews into exile. A new and more splendid Temple was started by Herod the Great which was not finished until 64AD and was again destroyed by the Romans in 70AD only the Western or “Wailing Wall” was left intact.
The structure of the Temple itself was based on an a exclusive religious hierarchy and status, which was totally at odds with the vision of Jesus for God’s human family where all His children were equally loved by the Father. At its centre, was the “Holy of Holies” where the presence of God, was venerated . Only 26 specially chosen Abia priests were allowed to enter its sanctuary, which was veiled off from view. Then came the Court of the Priests containing the Court of Israel. Animal sacrifices were made in this Court. Next was the Court of Men, then the Court of Women and finally the Court of the Gentiles where traders sold birds and animals for sacrifice as offerings. Anyone with a disease, which was considered a sign of sinfulness those whom Jesus associated with most, were not allowed into the Temple area. It is immensely significant that we are told, that when Jesus died, the curtain of the Temple was ripped apart so signalling an inclusive salvation for all people won by Jesus’ sacrifice.
Because pilgrims wanting to buy birds and animals for sacrifice could not use gentile Roman coins they had to change them into Temple coins. It was considered common practice disliked by the poor, for such exchanges to financially favour the Temple currency. By overturning the money changer’s tables and driving them out, Jesus was totally challenging the Temple Authorities who wanted to arrest Him. But, He was protected by the crowd and begun to heal the sick before retiring to Bethany.
Lines had clearly been drawn between the teaching of Jesus and the practices of the chief priests in this dramatic start to the week.