Charles F. (Charles Force) Deems.

Who was Jesus? online

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kind in the Evangelical history." The friends of both the his-
torian and Jesus have felt that it is a passage specially pressed
with difficulties. It is a flaw in the crystal, a muddy place in the
clear stream, an ugly cloud on the pure sky. And so the com-
mentators have endeavored to explain away what seems to obscure
the character of Jesus in this act. But after all attempts there
stands the fact that Jesus cursed a tree, and it withered. It was
a miracle. Was it vindictive ? If Jesus was angry, had he just


cause to be angry? He had his passions. There is no more sin
in anger than in hunger, in the abstract. But was he at all
angry (

The trouble in the narrative is that it is believed to tell the fol
lowing story, namely : Jesus saw a fig-tree in full leafj he was
hungry, and wont to it, hoping to be able to gather

T 1 1 • ' fh

iii^s : he was disappointed: he was angered: he ,. m e

& ' ' ' ' ' narrative,

cursed the tree: under that curst; it withered.

This is not a pleasant picture of a great and good man. The dif-
ficulty is increased by the statement of .Mark, " for it was not the
Bea "ii of figs." Then the tree could nol reasonably have been
expected to have figs. It is treated as a free moral agent, being
only a vegetable, and is then destroyed for not doing what, it, could
not do. This seems a hard fate for the tree, and unhandsome con-
duct in Je

To abate the embarrassment, one commentator* proposes a
change in the reading of the Greek, so that it shall read, " where
he was it was the sea on of figs." This ha- two difficulties, 1.
There is no codex that justifies this reading ; and, 2. It was not a
fact. Be was in the rocky regions of Judaea, and it was early in
April. Josephus tells us that in the neighborhood of the Sea of
G-alilee fige grew ten months in the year ; but this was not true of
the vicinity of Jerusalem. Equally futile is the sngge tion of
another, to read the pat age as a question: "For was it not the
\ n Of course \\ was not. Moreover, that stylo does
not appear in Mark. While he is a graphic word painter, he has
no emotional rhetoric. The same may be said of anotherfsug-
on: " it was not a good season for fig ." There is no author-
ity lor the reading, and it was quite too early in the year to de-
clare whether it was to be a good s< ia on or not. Another explan-
ation i- thai the ■• fig harvesi " had not, y\ arrived ; thai i , Jesus
came expecting fruit, because the time in which the figs were
gathered had not yet. come, so that there could not he the explan-
ation that there had been a good crop, and that it had been gath-
ered. Thifi i- up. re nearl;. bio than the others. Bui .-till
there fa the fact, in the natural history of the fig, that it do.

ordinarily ripen in Palestine until June. We are told then- \, an

early kind which has been gathered a- far n|> a, Lebanon a- early

* Haftirim, Bmeit. Boo., ed. 1089, p | f Hammond, Armot ad 8 Mire


as May, yet the general time of ripening is June. There are othei
interpretations, but these will suffice as samples.

It is to be observed that none of these explanations touch the
root of the matter — the destruction of an inanimate object because
it was not in the condition in which it was expected to be found.

Friends and foes seem to agree on one point, which Dr. Strauss

states thus : " Mark adds these words in order to explain, — what

in the case of a particular tree may be easih 7 ex-

A great mistake. -i . i n ,. it n -it

plained, even m ng-time, by disease or from local

causes, — why Jesus found no fruit upon it." It seems to me that
Mark did no such thing. It was not the absence of fruit but the
presence of leaves which Mark sought to explain. It appears that
in the case of the fig the fruit often appears before, and generally
with, the leaves ; the early fruit comes before the leaves, which
do not appear until late in the season.* Indeed, the appearance
of fig-leaves is one of the signs of approaching summer, as Jesus
said (Matthew xxiv. 32), " When its branch . . . puts forth
leaves you know that the summer is nigh." If the yap in the
original be translated " although " instead of " for," it seems to
me that great help will be afforded to the proper comprehension
of the passage. No man was expecting figs ; but as they went
towards Jerusalem, in these first days of April, they saw a fig-
tree in foliage, " although it was not the season of figs." If leaves,
then there should have been fruit, for the fruit comes first. Jesus
was not angiy, but, as was usual with Oriental teachers, when he
found occasion to teach a lesson symbolically, he seized the occa-

He blighted the tree not because it did not have fruit, but be-
cause being fruitless it did have leaves. The tree stood a symbol
of the Jewish people, leafy and fruitless ; in
advance of all the nations of the earth in religious
pretensions, while being at the same time quite as destitute of
real fruit as the Greeks and Romans and others, whom they re-
garded as barbarians and pagans. In a special manner that par-
ticular sect of the Jews called the Pharisees leafed out into mani-
fold baptisms, and minute tithings, and excessive fastings, and
broadened phylacteries, while the fruits of piety and humanity
were nowhere to be found in their lives. The act of Jesus was
not vindictive, but didactic ; he did no harm to the tree, while he

* Hackett's Illus. of Scriptures, p. 141.


impressed a profound lesson upon his disciples by what may be

considered an acted Parable and Prophecy.

But there is still another consideration which seems to me more

important than all others. Possessing power to smite and tc

destroy, and being about to yield himself volun-

.-i -, , i i p i.ii • i i. A £ rand trut h.

tanly to death, a death from which he might

easily extricate himself by destroying all his enemies, it was im-
portant that the world should know that he had this power;
otherwise the grandeur of his self-sacrifice would be unknown to
the race. There Mere only two ways in which he could exhibit
it, by smiting things animate or things inanimate. It was in pur-
est mercy that he chose the latter. We now know what he could
have done when bound, and buffeted, and insulted, and led out
to be crucified. He could have made Caiaphas, or Pilate, or
Herod, or the Roman centurion the blasted result of the exercise
of his power. To know that he had this power, and did not exert
it on men, under the circumstances, is the grandest display of
mercy possible to man, and, let it be said devoutly, possible to
God. It is worth more than all the trees that ever grew. Plant
this stricken tree of Tuesday beside the cross of Friday, and you
have a suggestion worth the study of man through all ages of time
and of eternity.

We have seen that very early in his ministry Jesus had entered
the Temple and rebuked its secularization by driving the profaning
money-changers from the sacred precincts. (See

Soooivl clennsiii '

p. 12G.) It does not seem to have made a per- of the Temple
m ;u i cut cure of the evil. The Temple-market as
it was called, tabemw, where animals for sacrifice, and oil, and
wine, and salt, and incense, were sold to worshippers, and the
uncurrcnt and profane coin of those who came from distant coun-
tries was exchanged, had been set up again in the Court of the
Gentiles. Again Jesus overturned the tables of the money-
changers and the seats of the dove-sellers, and drove these mer-
chants Erom the Eouse of God, and forbade the carrying of uten-
sils through the II

Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Force) DeemsWho was Jesus? → online text (page 56 of 77)