Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
Some say that God always answers prayers, but that sometimes the answer is “No!” But Jesus’ words add some complexity to this view. He says that as we pray, we ought to forgive. Prayer exists not only in order to ask for what I desire, but also so that my desires might grow to be more in harmony with God’s.
Maybe I enter into prayer asking for justice, but learn that what I really need is to forgive and to be forgiven. I am still asking for what I want, but learn that “what I want” changes through grace.
Peter sees only a withered fig tree. Figs, though, benefit greatly from severe pruning of dead wood. They then grow back with vigor. I suspect that Jesus sees the longer timeline. Like that tree, our prayer can sometimes be a pruning of the old so that new growth can begin again.
—Marina McCoy is an associate professor of philosophy at Boston College.
Bring a desire to God in prayer. Ask God for what you want. Then wait with openness as to whether there is something even deeper towards which God might be leading.
What might the longer timeline look like?
What is God’s deepest desire for you in this situation?
What is God’s greatest hope for you?