Recently, I have felt overly burdened by the little details as it relates to the coming changes in my life. I am frustrated that regardless of the area of my life, I feel unlike myself. I can rationalize to myself, let others who are close to me help me cope, but at the end of the day, the fox in the garden returns. The wedding venue calls because they wrote the wrong time down, or the bureaucracy called the state government makes it quite inconvenient to get a marriage license for people who don’t live in the same city, or some marriage paperwork went awry, or… you get the drift. I find myself somehow stressed again about some likely unimportant thing that is causing me to worry and work feverishly to organize and control in an effort to mitigate the problems. I think somehow underneath it all I am under the misleading presupposition that I will become my best self again if I can just check all the to-do’s off my list.
Then I came upon this passage while looking at the Colorado mountains on vacation:
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”Matthew 21:18-22 NIV (for parallels see Mark 11:12-14, 20-25)
In just these 5 verses, this passage is packed with so many lessons: the humanity of Jesus, our fallibility when it comes to remembering, what faith and believing does, the strength of our Lord (yes, that mountain looks pretty big to move from that front porch), and the role of prayer.
Beginning with verse 18, we are reminded that Jesus faced hunger, that He chose to experience all the human desires, needs, and temptations we face. At the same time, He is God in the flesh, so it is also possible this part of the story is there mainly to provide the groundwork for the parable He was about to tell.
I find it amazing that after all the miracles Jesus had done so far, the disciples were still amazed (verse 20). At this point in the book of Matthew, stories aren’t being told to show the power of Jesus to perform miracles. His authority and power had already been established in earlier years. We see in Matthew 8-9 that He had healed incurable diseases and ailments, brought Lazarus back from the dead, and calmed a storm. All things that seem to me to be even more miraculous than a withering tree. Furthermore, those other miracles were said to have occurred in 28 AD, and this fig tree story happened just two years later in 30 AD. Ah, another reminder that we aren’t very good at remembering the past things Jesus has done. We have to be so intentional about remembering if even the disciples had a hard time doing so.
In verse 21, the definition of the word “faith” in greek, Pistis, in Matthew 21:21 and Mark 11:22 is:
with the predominant idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the sameSource: blueletterbible.org
Then in verse 22, the word faith is also translated to mean believe:
“…If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 21:22 NIV
And the definition of the word faith in greek (ESV) or believe (NIV and KJV), pisteuō, in verse 22 is:
specifically, in a moral and religious reference, it is used in the N. T. of “the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul”; thus it stands absolutely to trust in Jesus or in God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing somethingSource: blueletterbible.org
These greek translations leave me asking myself some hard questions regarding the minutia causing me stress:
- Am I confident in what God can do — whether it be moving mountains, providing help in these small moments of need, of healing the hearts of those I love? Or do I, like the disciples, still act surprised when God does what He always does in His perfect fashion?
- Am I convicted to trust God absolutely?
- Do I believe God?
- By connecting God is love (1 John 4:8) and faith cannot exist without love (1 Corinthians 13:2), is my current faith walk reflective of how much I am seeking to love God and love others?
This other hard truth hits me again: everything stressing me out is utterly temporal. If faith is confidence in what we hope for – eternity with our Creator and Father (Hebrews 11:1) – then part of what is causing me stress is that I am letting other things take priority over knowing Him and reflecting on the power of His death and resurrection. I repeat the wise words of my friend and fellow blogger, Rachel: “What do you think feasting on and celebrating the good news of the resurrection of Jesus looks like? How might we begin to ponder or live in light of His return as faith communities?”
Perhaps these questions will bring me the peace and joy of which I so desperately seek in my current season…
“Your face, Oh Lord, I will seek.”Psalm 27:8