One hot Friday afternoon, Trish was working outside and sent Sam to get me. I found her in hostas up to her cute little whatsis, so we made dividing and transplanting them a marriage-building activity.
That job finished, we sat sweaty. And we looked. And we saw the broken arbor along the side of the house that makes us feel like white trash. We saw the tangled convolution of vines that has been choking the whole south side of the house for years, several trees with it. We looked at each other with a mutual Clint Eastwood scowl of great purpose.
We got up. We cut into the vines. We tore them from the house and the trees. We sawed and dug and yanked and pulled like lives were at stake.
We both had stuff on our minds.
I could pretend to be embarrassed at this, but I’m really not: I yelled at that vine. I called it bad names as I sought to free the trees from its stranglehold. I summoned wrath for that vine as if it had a will. I growled at it as if it had an intelligence making it mean. I could be overheard by the neighborhood birds growling under my breath, “Let go of her, you f#@!ing bastard.”
[Insert pause for those who know me to catch their breath.]
A holy moment, don’t you think?
Some of Jesus’ most powerful moments in the gospels involve cursing.
There’s Jesus telling Peter, one of his best friends, to go to hell. (Usually read, “Get behind me, Satan.”) Man, that must have stung.
There’s the scene in where Jesus is casting “Woe” on the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, calling them snakes (opei gennhmata ecidnwn if you care), reminiscent of John the Baptizer’s rant (Luke 3.17) with echoes of the Pharisees’ accusation of Jesus of being in league with Beelzebub (Luke 12:34). Anyway, J was irate. He let them have it.
Then there’s my favorite: Jesus cursing the fig tree. The scene happens after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (I don’t need to include the word “triumphal” here but honestly how often do you get a chance to use it?) In the story according to Mark, it happens right before Jesus goes postal in the temple. In Matthew‘s version, it’s right after. Either way, maybe he’s a little agitated. What happens is Jesus is hungry, finds a fig tree without figs and lashes out with a curse, “May no one eat your fruit again!” A few short verses later, sure enough, the thing is withered. It’s a tad embarrassing that the text goes out of its way to explain that figs were out of season. In the gospels, Rabbi J regains composure enough to use the moment to teach a little something about prayer. Nice recovery.
I call this gardening therapy. And it’s real cheap.
Most scholars connect this curious moment to the parable of the fig tree in Luke, where a man tells his gardener to dig up and destroy his three-years-barren, waste-of-soil fig tree. Bible commentaries point out that a thriving fig tree was a sign of blessing for Israel, and so days before his crucifixion, to curse said shrubbery indicates Jesus’ general non-good feelings about the whole thing. Kind of a performance art lament.
Personally, I choose to enjoy these cursing snapshots as faithful moments which resonate with the laments of the Psalms. Most of the Psalms are laments: faithful prayers in the midst of sadness, grieving, terror, and loneliness.
How much does it bother us to think of Jeshua as being cranky? Impolite at times? Unreasonable? Fully human?
To get in touch with the earthy side of Jesus, may I suggest reading the synoptic gospels? Just a bit at a time, with your imagination tuned to the drama, the characters, the landscape.
For some coyote medicine to poke your personal theology, you might enjoy your feathers ruffled by Monty Python’s classic film “Life of Brian” or Christopher Moore’s hilarious and irreverent novel, “Lamb.”
From out here, you cannot tell what’s blasphemy and what’s prayer. Yell at a bush with Jesus. You might feel better.
- Hear Richard’s song about the importance of doubt, ” Thomas.”