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Faith of A Mustard Seed

by Barbara Woods-Washington

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

With so little commentary done on ‘The Meaning Of The Withered Fig Tree’  who could have known that this ‘text led’ view of this scripture, (Mark’s 5th and final occurrence of ‘Jesus’ use of /faith’, 11:20-25) in this small space, would take us into so many dynamics of faith— ‘prayer’, ‘doubt’, ‘believe’, ‘receive’ — and now ‘forgive’!

 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”  Mark stands alone in recording this verse as a saying of Jesus’ in giving meaning to the withered fig tree.  The other ‘Double Tradition’ Gospel writer, Matthew, records this saying as a part of ‘The Sermon on The Mount’ (6:14).  This reason alone gives cause for New Testament Texual scholars to see problems with this text.

Attention is called again to the fact that several New Testament Greek words lie behind English language translations of ‘receive’.  With and without textual problems, it must be noted that this study of ‘pistis’/faith’ usage has and is revealing a consistent journey into the ‘saying of Jesus’!  All Markan usages of ‘aphiemi/forgive’ are in the mouth of Jesus!

With the single exception of our present text, all usages of ‘aphiemi/forgive’ by Jesus in Mark reference ‘forgiveness of sin’ which was for Him a major theme in His Theology and Ministry.  It can easily be thought that this ‘dynamic of His faith’ is what cost him His life.  The examination of Jesus’ campaign on ‘forgiveness of sins’ is of vital importance as we have seen it used several times already— He said to the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven.”  The response of the scribes on this occasion was “blasphemy”— which Jesus, ironically, determines to be the ‘unforgivable sin’.  When His pronouncements are made concerning ‘forgiveness of sins’, you can always feel the tension mounting as notes are given of ‘counsel being held against Him’.

The most modern understanding of ‘forgiveness’ is to give up resentment against or stop wanting to exact punishment upon another for an offense or fault.  To pardon.  To relent in being angry or in harboring malice with a view towards revenge.  To absolve from payment when the offense becomes a debt, whether due or owed, that has cause to keep one stuck in emotionally engaged injustice or trauma.  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”.  The intensity of guilt and shame is a whole other thing in the process of ‘self-forgiveness.’  ‘Self-worth’ becomes an issue..

Here, now, Jesus’ final Markan usage of ‘pistis/faith’ is also His final usage of ‘aphiemi/forgive’ (vs. 25 & 26).  He is downtrodden.  His disappointment in humanity has given rise to the ‘cursing of a tree’!  The one follower whom He was developing for the ‘church building mission’ ‘got lost in the tree’!  His thoughts, with so little time and so great a salvation yet to be revealed, are as never before.  His words come as never before.  All in one quick lifetime He has managed to shift forgiveness from being the ‘property of the priesthood’ to being the  responsibility, the obligation, the prayer, the petition of the individual life of faith.  Whenever, wherever, whatever you stand praying, forgive anything!!! against anyone!!!  Oh my! Oh my… goodness.. and mercy… shall follow me…  all the days of my life…  How very different this world would be if Christians followed Jesus?

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