Proof Is in the Pudding
Luke’s twenty-first chapter begins with Jesus’ commentary on the contribution of the poor widow (temple base treasury). Scripture scholars remind us that Jesus is not praising or commending the action of the woman — actually, an imprudent decision, to give away the last of one’s financial base — rather, he’s condemning a policy that requires or expects such giving. From there, Luke 21 continues with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple, signs of end times, the coming persecution, the great tribulation, and the exhortation to be vigilant. Today’s narrative around the lesson of the fig tree is sandwiched within these foreboding verses, passages we always ponder at the end of the church year.
Throughout the pages of the four Gospels, Jesus is repeatedly presenting a paradigm shift, what contemporary writer Brian McLaren calls a “disruptive spirituality.” In the early chapters of John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus “cleanses the temple,” overturning not merely pigeons and coins and tables, he is disrupting the entire religious institution. He outrageously states that the corrupted temple (of a violent and vengeful God demanding appeasement and sacrifice) will be destroyed and replaced by another, living temple. In the next chapter Jesus continues with this language of disruption, telling Nicodemus that in spite of all his learning and his status, he needs to go back and start all over, to be born again, a most suitable image for disruption. Then he tells a Samaritan woman that the location of worship doesn’t matter at all! What matters is not the temple or location, but the attitude or spirit of the person.
In some ways, the recent presidential election has forced me to review my own spirituality, to articulate afresh what I actually believe. Perhaps it is in the difficult times that we are disciplined to clarify our faith… when the “rubber hits the road.” And once again we must “reconfigure” things… knowing that our spirituality must be as practical as the lessons of nature… mustard seeds, yeast, precious pearls, fig trees. The proof is in the pudding.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.