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The Cross Of Christ
Life Of Christ:
 Christ Announces To St. Peter His Supreme Pastoral Charge

 Private Life Of Jesus During His Ministry

 Sorrow Caused To Jesus And Mary By The Persecution Of The Jews

 Jesus Triumphantly Enters Jerusalem

 Barren Fig-tree

 Jews Lay Plans To Put Jesus To Death

 The Last Supper

 Farewell Discourse And Prayer Of Jesus

 Jesus In The Garden Of Gethsemani

 Treason Of Judas, And The Apprehension Of Jesus

 Read More Articles About: Life Of Christ

Barren Fig-tree

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


EARLY next morning—Monday—Jesus and His disciples started for Jerusalem, and the keen air made Him hungry. The little valley of Bethany was famous for its dates and figs, for the very name of Bethany means "the place for dates," while Bethphage is "the place for the green or winter fig," a variety which re-mains on the trees through the winter, ripening only after the leaves fall. It was not yet time for the fig harvest, but some of the previous year's fruit might, no doubt, be found on some of the trees. One tree, especially, attracted the notice of Jesus. It grew by the roadside, as common property, and, even thus early, when other fig-trees had scarcely begun to turn green, was conspicuous by its young leaves. When He had come to it, however, they proved its only boast : there was no fruit of the year before, as might have been naturally expected. It was, indeed, the type of a fair profession without performance: of the hypocrisy which has only leaves and no fruit. " And He saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee hence-forward forever. And immediately the fig-tree withered away." (Matt. xxi. 19.)

The holy Fathers remark that on this occasion Christ intended to inculcate the lesson that it is not sufficient to abstain from sin, but that we must also bring forth the fruit of good works.

" And when He was come into the Temple, there came to Him as He was teaching the chief priests and ancients of the people, saying: By what authority dost Thou these things? And who hath given Thee this authority? Jesus answering said to them; I also will ask you one word, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men? . . . And answering they said: We know not. He also said to them : Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Matt. xxi. 23-27.) The purpose of these and similar questions was to ensnare Christ in His speech; but He was so circumspect in His answers that they were confounded, and left the Temple.

On the night between Monday and Tuesday, the hospitable home of Lazarus and his sisters, afforded shelter to Our Lord, as it also did on the two previous and the two succeeding nights. On Tuesday morning, when Jesus again went to Jerusalem with His disciples, St. Peter, as they passed the fig-tree on which He had sought fruit the day before, exclaimed in wonder: "Rabbi, behold the fig-tree which Thou didst curse is withered away." (Mark xi, 21.) This gave Our Lord an opportunity of impressing on the apostles a truth which, above all others, He had sought to fix- in their hearts during His three years' intercourse with them. namely, that, as His apostles, commissioned to establish and spread His kingdom, they would be able, if they had unswerving faith, to overcome all difficulties. "And Jesus answering, saith to them : Have faith in God. Amen I say to you, that whosoever shall say to this mountain : Be thou removed, and be cast into the sea, and shall not stagger in his heart, but believe that whatsoever he saith shall be done, it shall be done unto him." (Mark xi. 22, 23.) By this He intended to convey to them the lesson: "Have firm trust in God. Believe Me, if you have such faith, and let neither doubt nor wavering enfeeble it, you will be able hereafter to do not only such things as you have seen done to this tree, but, to use the expression of the rabbis when they speak of overcoming the greatest difficulties or of achieving the most unlikely ends, you will be able, as it were, to bid this mountain rise and cast itself into the sea. All depends, however, on your faith being simple and undoubting, for anything less dishonors God. He who has such childlike trust in Him may confidently expect his prayer to be heard."

Then He entered the Temple, and preached to the throngs which gathered about Him. This being the last day on which He intended to teach in public, He remained all day in the Temple, and spoke on a variety of subjects, mostly in parables.

" And He began to speak to them in parables: A certain man planted a vineyard and made a hedge about it, and dug a place for the wine vat, and built a tower, and let it to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant to re.

ceive of the fruit of the vineyard. Who having laid hands on him, beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent to them another servant, and him they wounded in the head and used him reproachfully. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, of whom some they beat, and others they killed. Therefore having yet one son most dear to him, he also sent him unto them last of all, saying: They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen said one to another: This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And laying hold on him, they killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What, therefore, will the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others." (Mark xii. 1-9.)

The chief priests thus addressed could not, in the presence of the listening crowd, refuse the only possible answer suggested by the parable, thus condemning themselves and pronouncing their own sentence.

And continuing, Jesus said : "Have you not read this scripture: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is made the head of the corner? By the Lord hath this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?" (Mark xii. 10, 11.) His meaning was clear: the corner-stone of the kingdom of God, of which those in His presence claimed to be the chief men, was, in their own mode of speech, only a figurative name for the Messias, on whom its existence and completion depended, as a building depends on its foundation and support. This was His own explanation of the parable : " Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this' stone shall be broken : but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder." (Matt xxi. 43, 44.) The first open attempt at violence followed this parable. "And they sought to lay hands on Him: but they feared the people. For they knew that He spoke this parable to them. And leaving Him, they went their way." (Mark xii. 12.)

Left in peace, our divine Lord once more calmly be-took Himself to His task of teaching all that would hear Him. Full of holy indignation at the hypocrisy and wilful blindness of His adversaries, no less than of compassion for the multitude, He could not repress the crowding thoughts which the last hours had raised in His soul, and, as usual, they found expression in additional parables.

"The kingdom of heaven," He began, "is likened to a king who made a marriage for his son. And he sent his servants to call them that were invited to the marriage: and they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying: Tell them that were invited: Behold I have prepared my dinner, my beeves and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready : come ye to the marriage. But they neglected and went their ways, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise, and the rest laid hands on his servants, and having treated them contumeliously, put them to death. But when the king had heard of it, he was angry: and sending his armies, he destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he saith to his servants: The marriage is indeed ready; but they that were invited were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as you shall find, call to the marriage. And his servants going forth into the ways, gathered together all that they found, both bad and good: and the marriage was filled with guests. And the king went in to see the guests: and he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment. And he saith to him : Friend, how camest thou in hither not having on a wedding garment? But he was silent. Then the king said to the waiters: Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matt. xxii. 1-14.)

This parable was to add force to those just addressed to the priests and chiefs, but with various additional lessons. The people of Jerusalem were again reminded that when the kingdom of the Messias should be established in its glory, God would call the heathen to a share in it, while Israel, which as a nation had rejected His repeated invitations, would no longer be the one people of God. He closed His impressive discourse with the memorable words: " Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather the chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not! Behold your house shall be left to you desolate." (Matt. xxiii. 37, 38.)

After the multiplied emotions of the last hours, Jesus sat down to rest, over against the treasury, where the continuous stream of persons casting in their money necessarily attracted His notice. Among others came a poor widow. " And she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And calling His disciples together, He saith to them: Amen I say to you, this poor widow hath cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want cast in all she had, even her whole living." (Mark xii. 42-44.)

Nothing in these last discourses of Jesus had seemed more strange and inexplicable to the apostles than His reference to Jerusalem. As they now passed with Him through the outer courts of the Temple, overpowered by the vast magnitude of the buildings, they called His attention thereto. " And He answering, said to them : Do you see all these things? Amen I say to you, there shall not be left a stone upon a stone that shall not be destroyed." (Matt. xxiv. 2.) Then He went with them to the Mount of Olives. Sitting down on a knoll, to enjoy the magnificent view, the apostles had Moria once more before them in its whole glory, crowned by the marble Temple, like a mountain with snow. Their thoughts still ran on the words in which He had doomed it to destruction, and they addressed Him, saying: "Tell us when these things shall be, and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the consummation of the world." (Matt. xxiv. 3.)

"And Jesus answering, said to them: Take heed that no man seduce you. For many will come in My name, saying: I am Christ: and they will seduce many. And you shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled; for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet; for nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places: now all these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall put you to death; and you shall be hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then shall many be scandalized, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall seduce many. And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold: but he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations: and then shall the consummation come. When, therefore, you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, he that readeth let him understand : then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains: and he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take anything out of his house : and he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. And woe to them that are with child, and that give suck in those days. But pray that your flight be not in the winter, or on the Sabbath; for there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, and neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved : but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say to you: Lo, here is Christ, or there: do not believe him. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect Behold I have told it to you beforehand. If therefore they shall say to you: Behold He is in the desert, go ye not out: Behold He is in the closets, believe it not. For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn : and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And He shall send His angels with a trumpet, and a great voice : and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. And from the fig-tree learn a parable : when the branch thereof is now tender, and the leaves come forth, you know that summer is nigh. So you also, when you shall see all these things, know ye that it is nigh even at the doors. Amen I say to you, that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass, but My words shall not pass. But of that day and hour no one knoweth, no not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone." (Matt. xxiv. 4-36.)

And cautioning the apostles to watch, Jesus spoke the parable : " Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them wert foolish, and five wise. But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bride-groom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now, whilst they went to buy the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, lord, open to us. But he answering, said : Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye, therefore, for you know not the day nor the hour." (Matt. xxv. 1-13.)

As the lamps of the foolish virgins went out for want of oil, so does the light of faith die in our hearts, if not nourished by good works. Let no one deceive himself by saying: I will hold fast the faith in my heart, but as for the practice of piety, mortification, moderation, mildness, and chastity, I will wait till I am older. That is deceiving ourselves. Without good works, without unceasing and earnest effort to obtain true holiness, your faith will wither, whether you wish it or not. Hence we are warned by Our Saviour always to have the oil of good works in readiness, so that when He summons us to the judgment-seat, we may come into His presence with lamps flaming with a brilliant, God-pleasing faith. Otherwise the door will be closed against us, with the dread sentence in our ears : " Verily, I know you not."

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